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Horses On The Air!
September 16-26, 2021

Horseback image
Ed DeJong and Diane VanWesep

The 'Horses on the Air!' special event celebrates the Michigan Trail Rider’s Association, (MTA) “September Ride” , which follows the Shore-to-Shore State Horse Trail, stretching from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron.

Portable radio operation was from the trail during the second half of the ride. This was the return leg from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan.

The 2021 September Ride was scheduled to be a "crisscross”, as opposed to the “double-cross”. A double-cross has the riders travel from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron, before turning around and riding back to Lake Michigan. With a crisscross, the ride begins in Cheboygan. Riders take the trail south and then east to Lake Huron, and then cross the state to Lake Michigan.

Individual riders can join or leave the ride at any and location, but those who travel from shore to shore qualify for a trophy! (Note: this has been described as ‘the ugliest trophy in the world’, which is probably why there are zero images of it on the internet. It was reportedly crafted to resemble a hitching post. I uploaded a picture as soon as I could get one.) We planned to ride from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan during the return leg of the ride.

My wife, Michelle had joined her long-time friends Diane VanWesep and Ed DeJong at the Garey Lake campsite a few years ago, for just the first three days of a ride. So she was familiar with the routine. But this year she had a much larger, ‘living quarters’ trailer - and me! I have never done anything like this before. Ed and Diane were doing the ride back from Oscoda and offered their support. They were very patient and helpful. Ed knew the routes between the camps, which can be very confusing before daylight. I stuck close to him.

We joined the MTA riders at the River Road Campsite, about 12 miles inland from Lake Huron. After spending the night, we trailered the horses to the public beach in Oscoda. The "rig jumpers", (like me) brought the trailers back to the River Road Campsite and waited for the riders. Later in the day, newbies, (like me) returned to Oscoda to clean up after the horses.

I was the only scheduled radio operator. I looked for interested hams and non-hams to take the mic when possible, but found no takers. (And no one can talk to a horse of course!) My wife was riding her Tennessee Walking Horse. As her rig jumper, I drove the truck and trailer to her destination each day and set up camp. This was a way for us to share the experience even though she is not a ham, and I am not a horseman.

I planned to update the website each day as we moved along the trail, but that was not realistic. It was a week after returning before I found the time. I wanted to show, for each campsite, things I was curious about. Like, for instance, the distance to a gas station. Is there a river or lake nearby for fishing/swimming? How far for guitar strings if one gets broken? As it turns out, it only takes a short drive, 10 to 20 miles, to get anything you might need. Cell phone service was even possible in every camp. However, the campsites are not ‘destination’ campsites. They were developed and are maintained by the MTRA to provide layovers for the riders. The natural beauty nearby is only incidental. My discretionary time was spent on ham radio, not on scoping out the surroundings.

My schedule was generally up at 5:30, arrive at the new campsite at 7:30, prepare for the horse and set up my radio station till 11:00, on the air till 1:30. After that, I needed to tear down and put away my station. We attended two meetings with the other campers, typically: a small informal “happy hour” and a required formal meeting. Travel for gas or other essentials cut into my radio time. Dinner would take the rest of my free time. I was too tired after that to do anything. I operated eight of the ten days. I had no radio time at all on Wednesday or the last Sunday of the ride.

For some useful info about each of the campsites, with pictures of the sites we visited, you can take this link: Shore-to-Shore Trail Rout and Campsites.

Activation details

I planned to operate from mid-morning till early evening every day, and to try mobile operations early in the day while driving to a new campsite. This was not realistic. I only had a few hours each day, around local noon. I lost a spring to my Vibroplex key early on, so CW was out after that. Then, USB on my 30-year-old IC-735 stopped working. I brought my new IC-7300, but after loaning it out for FT8 at the W8L event, my mic no longer worked. It wasn’t till a week after this event that I figured out which settings needed attention. So, for the entire Horses on the Air event, I was restricted to LSB. I stayed on 40 meters.

Band conditions were ok to start and really improved through the week, but there was one intermittent problem: intentional QRM. It would only arise after someone would spot me on the internet. My resolution was to change frequency and ignore the clamor, but memories of the added difficulty in working rare DX stations returned to mind. I don’t know what kind of insanity causes a person to spend time and money to create QRM, or why they get away with it for hours on end, but maybe I can find a way to help to do something about it.

On to River Road Trailcamp!

QSL via mail, QRZ, and LoTW only please. US Mail goes to N8PPQ: 1817 Mills Ave., N. Muskegon, MI 49445. Please add comments about your experience, including RF conditions or knowledge you may have of endurance riding.