Running Crab

I’ve been having mixed results with my TinyTrak3 APRS beacon here in Hampton – when I start heading south from Newport News towards Fort Monroe (located at the southern tip of the peninsula), I can’t hit any APRS digipeaters – so my APRS beacon packets don’t go anywhere. Friday I was monitoring the local 2m repeaters and using WinAPRS and saw a couple guys testing some APRS equipment mounted on a bicycle. I emailed them and asked about the APRS coverage in Hampton and in response I got a request to help out with the Running Crab Half Marathon ( So I said “why not?” and showed up this morning at the Hampton Convention Center at 6am. I helped set up some equipment and then went out to the 2 Mile Marker and set up a race clock, which I started when the race began – we used a local 2m repeater to relay the report of the starting line’s pistol. I then had to call in the numbers of the first three male and female runners that passed my point. I also helped a nearby water point setup and tear down an antenna for one of the race course APRS digipeaters. Amazingly enough the poles they had for the antenna had to have been Army surplus, because they looked just like the Army’s OE-254 (which I’ve used a million times to set up antennas for SINGCARS). After that it was back to the Hampton Convention Center to help tear down the equipment there (computers, antennas, etc.). The race used two mobile APRS units, one in the lead chase vehicle that was just in front of the male front runners and a bicycle mounted APRS that was trailing the lead female runner.

I think there was a total of 4 APRS digipeaters set up, one on the Convention Center’s roof (which had excellent 360 degree coverage), one at a water point just past the 2 Mile Marker, one near the 7 Mile Marker, and one inside the Convention Center which was connected to a computer running WinAPRS. The WinAPRS computer map display was then projected onto a large screen, so folks at Start/Finish could monitor the race.
I had a good time and enjoyed meeting the other local hams. Also got a free t-shirt. 🙂

Road Trip Wrap Up: APRS – from California to Virginia

Here’s a snapshot of my APRS track across the US – the track is shown in blue – the gaps indicate areas where my radio dedicated to emitting failed to make contact with another radio acting as an APRS relay.

My APRS setup consisted of the following equipment:

This is a quad band radio (6m, 2m, 440 MHz, and 1.2 GHz), discontinued a due to the absolute hate folks had for that round “Multi” switch located to the bottom left of the LCD window. Admittedly, the radio takes a little to get used to, but overall, I’ve been very satisfied with it’s performance. The primary handicap of using this radio for APRS operation is that like most HTs, at high power it only transmits 5 Watts. I powered the radio with the optional CP-12L cigarette lighter cable with noise filter OPC-245L DC power cable.
IC-T81A manual

Byonic’s TinyTrak3
The heart of the whole operation. It connects with both the GPS and radio. TinyTrak3 takes the position data from the GPS, formats the data for use with APRS, and then passes the data to the radio for transmission. My TinyTrak3 worked flawlessly on the entire trip. It’s powered by a fused cigarette lighter plug connected with a fabricated cable that provides a serial connection to TinyTrak3 and TX/RX to the radio.
Download the configuration software and documentation.

And the final piece of my APRS triad is the GPS:

Garmin’s eTrex Vista
I purchased this GPS in 2001 when I was in Korea after I monitored a fellow lieutenant get humiliated when he got lost near the DMZ while trying to deliver hot chow to some of our soldiers. I vowed never to be “that lieutenant” and have not been lost since (as long as I had my GPS with me). The GPS got me through Korea and my subsequent assignment to Germany, but it really performed in Kuwait and Iraq. With only 2x AA batteries, the eTrex Vista usually operates for 12-14 hours.
Owner’s Manual (Software Version 3.00 and above) Rev. B, Aug, 2004

So with all the above items, I was able to traverse the continent allowing friends and family to “keep an eye” on me.

How Newport News Got It’s Name

Newport News’ name origin is not certain. The most reasonable explanation is based on commemoration of the English mariner Capt. Christopher Newport. Capt. Newport, was among the most important men connected with the permanent settling of Virginia and was in charge of a squadron of three ships making the historic voyage in 1607, which landed at the location that was to be known as Jamestown. Capt. Newport made several subsequent voyages back to England and return. It is said that after the “starving times” of the year 1610, the settlers decided to abandon the Jamestown settlement and return to England. Barely underway, at the current location of Newport News, they encountered Capt. Newport returning from England with news that it was not necessary to abandon the settlement. Thus the original name “Newport’s Good News” was established. Over the years this was shortened to the name “Newport News”.

Capt. Christopher Newport would not recognize the place now! Note that Jamestown is in the upper left corner of the map and the body of water going to it is the James River. The James River empties into the foot of the Chesapeake Bay at the right on the map.

Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia

Atlanta, GA – Newport News, VA
Daily Mileage: …
Total Mileage: …
Total Number of States Traveled: 35
Continental States Not Traveled: New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Michigan, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Florida.
Of these, the only states I haven’t been to yet: New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Michigan, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, West Virginia.

Heading up the Georgia coast’s I-95 was pretty easy going. The weather was still cooperating (as it had the entire trip, minus Washington State – which didn’t come as any big surprise) and I was making good time. My last trek on I-95 in the south was in 1991 with my college debate team as we trekked from Charleston, SC down to Tallahassee, FL to Florida State University. Debate Team trips featured the use of one of our college’s large 15x passenger vans with South Carolina state government plates which I felt gave me the option of driving as fast as I wanted. Luckily, I never got a ticket – but on my last trip as a senior while returning to Charleston I let a junior drive (to get experience) as I promptly fell asleep. Later I awoke to discover the junior had followed my lead in putting the peddle to the metal only to be pulled over by a South Carolina State Trooper who wasn’t much impressed with our government plates. But I digress….

I passed through Darian (remembering that that was the location where parts of the movie Glory were filmed) and the exit to Hinesville (home to Fort Stewart and the 3rd Infantry Division… some of whom are back in Iraq) and then into Savannah. I’ve only been into Savannah once before – and that was only to the airport. It was in the fall of 1989 – Hurricane Hugo had come ashore at Charleston and really did some damage. After I’d retreated to a classmates inland house in Spartanburg, SC, I flew back to California while Charleston began the process of piecing itself back together. After two weeks, school was to reopen, but the Charleston International Airport was not. I had to fly into Savannah and then make my way to Charleston. And on this trip I saw my very first road side stand selling boiled peanuts. To this day, I have a hard time understanding why anyone would want to boil a peanut.

Crossing into South Carolina, I passed the turn off for Hilton Head and Beaufort. Continuing northward, I started to see the signs for South of The Border.

Why this place is still in existence, I have no idea. The raw offensiveness of the billboards leave me in amazement… it’s just so tacky.

Into North Carolina and through Fayetteville, I stopped for dinner in Smithfield at the local Cracker Barrel (I got the chicken dumplings). As I passed through Rocky Mount, dusk set in.

This leg remained uneventful, crossing into Virginia, heading east on US 58 at the town of Emporia, through Franklin and Suffolk. I took I-664 over the James River into Newport News when I remembered that I failed to write down the name and address of the hotel I was staying at. I generally remember the location (I-64 and Jefferson Avenue in Newport News), so after a few U-turns, I stumbled upon it – completing my journey and arriving at my new “home”.

Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee

Dodge City, KS – Memphis, TN
Daily Mileage: 749
Total Mileage: 7219
Total Number of States Traveled: 29

Nendels Inn
2523 E Wyatt Earp Bl
Dodge City, KS 67801

I got out of Dodge Friday morning and continued east, dropping down to US54 passing through Greensburg, Brenham, and Wellsford. I got on a local repeater and talked to Larry, a retired teacher who taught High School in Cunningham and now works for the Department of Agriculture as an inspector. He had the day off and was running some errands in Pratt, located at the crossroads of US 281 and US 40. We talked a little about the war in Iraq, Larry had former students who’d served over in Iraq and was dubious of the press coverage and concerned about what was happening over there. Larry also recommended filling up in Goddard, as opposed to waiting until I got to Wichita to get a cheaper price.

While approaching Wichita, I realized I had forgot (again) to load my required maps onto my Pocket PC. I found a Starbucks on the western side of Wichita where I refilled my coffee mug and pulled out the laptop and Pocket PC to get my maps squared away. But something went terribly wrong… the map loading program just kept going, and going without completing. I tried a few times, but I was loosing daylight and knew I still had many miles before Memphis.

I kind of panicked – I’d been relying on my Pocket PC/GPS combo the entire trip… giving me turn by turn instructions and almost always getting me exactly where I needed to go. I’d purchased a US road atlas way back in North Adams, MA before I’d developed full confidence in my Pocket PC/GPS system. Now I had to use a paper map. I had to actually know where I was going, instead of blindly relying on a computer.

After a little confusion on the I-35 Kansas toll road (entering the toll road and heading north rather than south – having to get off, pay 25 cents and get back on the other direction) – there was a lot of cursing on my part during this process. Heading south on the Interstate, I picked up my speed quite a bit, down into Oklahoma, getting on another toll road (US 412) towards Tulsa. It seemed like it took forever to pass through Tulsa and make my way south east on the toll road heading for I-40.

Meeting I-40 and continuing east, I crossed into Arkansas, through the down of Fort Smith as dusk approached. While Kansas was as flat as everyone says, Oklahoma started into some rolling hills, becoming much more pronounced traveling through western Arkansas. Up, down, turn and twist as I made steady progress through Little Rock and on to Memphis. I had a nice conversation with a ham that had been traveling from Wichita Falls, TX to Little Rock, AR – Steve is an instructor at Sheppard Air Force Base and was formerly a crew member for both EC-130s and AC-130s, spending some time in Tucson previously.

I was really missing my Pocket PC/GPS when I rolled across the Mississippi into Memphis. It was around 11:30pm and the motel I’d booked was on the east side of Memphis in an area called Cordova. My paper map provided little detail and I had to pull over, break out my laptop and fire up the Microsoft Streets & Trips software. After an hour, I finally found the day’s destination.

Colorado & Kansas

Montrose, CO – Dodge City, KS
Daily Mileage: 495
Total Mileage: 6470
Total Number of States Traveled: 26

Continued on US 50 east, up the western slope of the Rockies to Monarch Pass and the Continental Divide…

The eastern slope of the Rockies quickly transitioned to the high plains and at dusk I crossed into Kansas.

Nevada, Utah, Colorado

Ely, NV – Montrose, CO
Daily Mileage: 492
Total Mileage: 5975
Total Number of States Traveled: 25

Another day of wonderful weather. Back on the road and heading east. US 50 is known as the “Loneliness Road”…

… seeing other cars on the road are few and far between.

After a few more eastern Nevada summits, the terrain sloped down into a large valley with a small salt lake…

and then into agriculture and cattle land. Eastern Utah presented some awesome scenery…

… some really unbelievable vistas…

I crossed into Colorado at Grand Junction and continued on US 50 to Montrose.

California & Nevada

Sunnyvale, CA – Ely, NV
Daily Mileage: 571
Total Mileage: 5483
Total Number of States Traveled: 23

Great day and wonderful weather. Topped off the gas tank ($2.54 a gallon…. what kind of craziness is that?) and headed towards Tahoe. I picked up US 50 on the outskirts of Sacramento and continued east, climbing into the mountains. Stopped by In-N-Out Burger in Placerville for my Double-Double fix. I found a plateau just outside of Placerville where I was able to talk to KD6EUG back into the valley. The drive into the Sierras was gorgeous – the roads were great, some snow. Pulling in to South Lake Tahoe I realized I hadn’t loaded the Nevada map into my Pocket PC… which would prevent my GPS from talking me through Nevada to Ely. Seeing a Starbucks, I parked and hauled in my laptop along with my coffee mug and loaded up the maps.

I’d only been to Lake Tahoe once before (when I was in the 5th grade) – what a beautiful place.

After circling counterclockwise around the southern part of Lake Tahoe, I crossed into Nevada… with all the casinos. Heading east, I approached Spooner Summit and the downhill ride into Carson City. On a local repeater I had a great conversation with Jo Anne who was down in Carson City. I told her I was planning on taking US 50 out to Ely and she gave me a few tips – watch out for wild horses on the highway! She also described how her local ham club provides communication support to the annual reenactment of the Pony Express that spans the length of Nevada. I passed the Nevada State Capitol and headed east out of town.

I made it to Fallon by sunset, refueled and continued east. It’s hard to say what Nevada looks like after Fallon, because once the sun set – it was pitch black. There were about a billion stars out – but only three trucks passed during the next five hours. Austin, Eureka… and finally Ely. For some reason I imagined Nevada would be flat – but I was up at 7,000 feet, rolling up and down a zillion summits.

Ramada Inn & Copper Queen Casino
805 Great Basin Blvd
Ely, NV 89301