Youth@HamRadio.Fun: A 2010 Youth DX Adventure
By Duncan MacLachlan, KU0DM
ARRL Youth Editor
I desperately wanted to go on a DXpedition before I turned 18. I know not many kids my age have had the opportunity to travel abroad, let alone travel abroad for the sole purpose of doing something you love. So when Don DuBon, N6JRL, first contacted me, informing me that there was a possibility that I could accompany a group of young operators to Costa Rica, I was dumb struck. Having never left the country, the idea of going to Costa Rica was by itself exhilarating, and then Don dropped the bomb: We’d be operating from the TI5N superstation. He informed me that I would get to choose a chaperon to accompany me, and naturally I chose my uncle, mentor and friend Brian Short, KC0BS.
I was dreading the wait from when Don first contacted me in February to the actual trip date in July; I knew the time would just crawl by. With every e-mail or phone call with Don, I became more and more anxious for the date of the trip. Fortunately, between school and summer fun, the time flew by and before I knew it, we were checking in at Kansas City International airport for a flight to meet the team in Atlanta. Brian and I arrived in Atlanta right as our flight to San Jose was boarding, so when we reached the terminal, we only had a few moments to exchange greetings with our fellow team members before boarding for San Jose. The flights themselves are blurs, as I spent most of them fast asleep.
What stands out the most in my mind was landing in San Jose and stepping off the plane and realizing I wasn’t in America -- the trip I had fantasized about was now reality. Our hosts, Keko and Sophia Diez, had arranged transportation from the airport to the station and I spent the entire car ride scanning the horizon for signs of ham radio. Finally, I caught sight of Keko’s aluminum jungle and I slipped into a daydream of running pile-ups of Europe and Africa using the many beams and wires. The first afternoon there was spent settling in, looking around, making a smattering of contacts and enjoying a marimba band to open what would be a phenomenal few days.
Friday started off with some lessons in DXing by Keko. Having many years of experience, he had many good suggestions and operating tips to share before cutting us loose. He began with a word of warning that most of what we knew about propagation from the Midwest wouldn’t help us in Costa Rica. While it may take a lifetime to truly understand propagation, Keko compressed everything he knew into 30 minutes. He taught us tricks for determining what band was open where, how to ride the grey line and how to make the best of bad conditions.
The first day was another flurry of activity, spent mostly setting up the equipment and getting everything running smoothly. There were a few moments that almost felt like Field Day, but as the Sun began to set, everything had started coming together nicely. I had been on 17 meters earlier in the day operating some CW, having fun working a handful of European stations mixed in with North Americans. The party really started as it grew dark and I hopped over to 40 meters. Keko has a 2-element delta loop beam on 40 that covers North America and Europe very nicely, and after a few CQs on CW, I was hit with a wall of Europeans. I had never heard so much DX at once, and had never operated a pile-up so big. The first few moments were rather clumsy; however, once I settled into a rhythm, I spent the next two hours working a steady pile-up of Eastern Europe and occasionally calling for North America.
On Saturday, we ventured into San Jose for a trip to the market and some site seeing. I didn’t know what to expect, being in the capital of a foreign country, but it seemed to be similar to many of the big cities in America. I did, however, note many big differences, the main one being how pedestrian-friendly the city is. Almost everyone walks, with only a few streets for vehicles. The people are very friendly and very courteous, and although the city was packed being the weekend, it had a very calming atmosphere. San Jose is very beautiful city -- you’re surrounded on all sides by beautiful buildings and there is always a view of the mountains in the distance.
We returned to the station around 2 that afternoon, and it was back to the grind stone! The team decided that we should construct a better operating schedule than what we had been doing (a very loose rotation), and we spent most of the afternoon and dinner figuring times out. Once we had that little bit of business out of the way, it was off to the races. Conditions were not the best; however, 40 meters was once again phenomenal for CW. Since we only had 24 hours of operating left, the radios were kept busy almost the entire time, including a few determined souls (myself not being one of them) who stayed up all night to operate.
Overall, it was an incredible experience. For my first trip abroad, Costa Rica could not have been a better destination. I fell in love with the people and lifestyle, and most of all the weather (when Brian and I left Kansas City it was 90 degrees at only 5 AM). It was also a very educational trip. Operating from a different location gave me a deeper understanding of propagation and Keko had some awesome pointers that I had never considered. I yearn to return to Costa Rica to take in the scenery, culture and most of all play radio. Operating from Costa Rica has whetted my appetite for travel and adventure, and taught me that wherever you go in the world, you will always find friends in Amateur Radio.
Thanks for reading, and hope you all have a great month!
--Duncan MacLachlan, KU0DM