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2023 Birkie-Kortie Notes

Birkie-Kortie 2023 (24, 25 February) was awesome! There were more of us from ICRC this year: me (KF0DEK), Shane (KD9NJJ), and Rick (KF0RIK). We all three left for Hayward, Wisconsin at around 6am on Friday and caravaned, more or less, on the way there, talking on first the Isanti repeater, then the Barron/Lampson linked repeaters from Grantsburg to 20 minutes or so outside of Hayward, then finally on the Hayward UHF/VHF linked repeaters. We also used the national calling frequency as a backup-- and it became necessary one time because of the terrain through some of Wisconsin.

We pulled in at just the right time for our informational breakfast, where we got our (updated) marching orders for the day, and keys to the Hayward Rod & Gun club, where the five volunteer radio operators were able to stay. This was awesome, and really took the stress out of the logistics of operating both race days. Many thanks to Wally (N9VAO) for putting that together-- and for coordinating the entire event, radio-wise! Perkins shut down sometime between now and February 2022, so we met at the Riverstreet Family Restaurant. Awesome breakfast and coffee!

That event was repeated both mornings, and then we'd drive to our respective checkpoints/aid stations. On Friday, I was stationed at the Gravel Pit. That had been my station last year as well, so I was roughly familiar with the route to it. I still managed to almost miss both turns, though. At least this year, I recognized the aid station before crossing the trail, completely destroying it with my four-wheel-drive!

I parked as out of the way as I could next to the Medic building, and commenced my radio check. I discovered, immediately, that I was unable to reliably get to the repeater with my HT. As close as I was parked, I could easily batch my reports, and jump in the pickup and use the mobile rig to get in but, as I was better prepared for the cold weather, and I was enjoying interacting with the other volunteers, I decided I wanted to fully utilize my communication options. I took some (Rick-inspired) work that I'd done a few months prior, and put the mobile into cross-band mode using a frequency that I had prepared (with tone-limits-- thanks, Kyle!) for just this situation. Because of that preparation, it was literally a five-second task to put that into operation, and I was able to walk around with my HT, calling in reports as needed. The other piece of technology I used was the little earpiece that came with all three of my Baofeng UV-5Rs. That meant I didn't have to fumble around with my radio when I needed to call in, and I could unobtrusively monitor all calls. I could leave my radio (and it's temperature-induced limp antenna) in my pocket. What a liberating setup!

After all the racers had passed my station, I was able to quickly jump in the truck, and avail myself of the Rod & Gun club to set up my bivouac and take a nap while waiting for my compatriots to show up after their shifts. That evening, we visited a Mexican restaurant (Los Portales) for dinner. It was excellent food, reasonably priced, and a great staff!

The second day, I was at the Fire Tower checkpoint. To get there, you have to drive north to Canada, and turn south onto the longest, narrowest, roughest, most confusing fire lane I've ever encountered, until you finally roll up to the trail crossing. Having learned from last year, I again didn't destroy it, but stopped, backed up, and parked a few hundred feet from the actual checkpoint. I couldn't get as close as the Gravel Pit, but well within range for the HT->mobile hop. I was a bit concerned, though, as my communication on both VHF and UHF were spotty on the fire lane leading up to the checkpoint. Once there, though, I was able to hear and transmit just fine from the mobile rig. However, I lost the ability to make any changes from the front panel, so no xband. After confirming that I couldn't reach with HT, I resigned myself to the idea of batching reports, and walking back to the vehicle.

We had talked earlier at breakfast that the farthest (first) checkpoint, Timber Trail, might have problems reaching the repeater(s) and, if so, he would relay to me, and I would call in his reports. I could not reach Timber Trail from my HT. Fortunately, though, his expandable antenna was able to reach in just fine.

After awhile, I noodled the problem in my increasingly handicapped brain (age, Norwegian heritage, etc.) and wondered if I had accidentally locked my radio. Apparently, I can do this two places: the mic, and the radio itself. Sure enough, there was a little "key" icon displayed. Now, how to unlock it... I discovered that the physical manual wasn't in the truck where I thought it was, and I had no cell service (T-mobile is fine, apparently, but not my Verizon). I managed to stumble onto the button that released the radio, and all was right with the world-- xband enabled!

This worked great until later in the morning, when conditions changed. I walked back to the truck and switched over to UHF, which was immediately better, then walked back to the aid station. Having not heard anything on the radio for awhile, I came to the realization that "cross-band" means switching the signal between UHF and VHF. I was now attempting to cross-band UHF to UHF. Ufda. I switched over to UHF->Isanti Simplex (no tone, unfortunately), and immediately I was back in business!

All-in-all, it was an awesome experience, and I plan to do it every year. I'm hoping we can increase our numbers, because more people equals more fun!

Rick Wagner has reacted to this post.
Rick Wagner

Some ideas for next year (or the next event):

  • take pictures of the radio team (what was I thinking??)
  • bring extra equipment (no replacement if the mobile rig goes out!)
  • sleeping mat on top of the cot
  • try to get close stations, so similar end times, so the annual stop at the Pour House in Silas is doable!
  • cross-band frequencies pre-configured (with tones) for both UHF and VHF operation
  • don't accidentally overwrite the area repeater frequencies before the trip
  • double-check to ensure needed manuals are physically with you (there won't be internet available!)