Day 32: Zero day in Great Falls, Montana

Day 2 in Great Falls:

I awoke to another morning of sunshine. I did get up during the night to take a look at the Perseid meteor shower, but it seemed about average, so I went right back to sleep. My body demanded rest.

After going out for breakfast, it was time to go look for a new sleeping bag. My current one has a lot of use and the stuffing, down, is getting pretty flimsy. Jane suggested that I replace it with something that we can share body heat with when we hike together. She likes things warm and I like them cool, so I should share my heat. Makes sense to me.

I went to the local outfitters in Great Falls but was sadly disappointed. They didn’t even have sleeping bags or much for camping at that. They had every conceivable type of ammunition and weapon that you could imagine, but no real “outfitter” equipment. I have fallen into this trap before. There are two views of what an outfitter is:

  1. An outfitter for outdoor life, such as camping, cooking, and in general, living with what you can carry on your back or bicycle.
  2. An outfitter for hunting, which means weapons, ammunition, knives, scents to attract game and maybe fishing gear. Most of this equipment is hauled around in a big pickup truck, all much too heavy to carry around, even for Lewis and Clark. Some of the stoves weigh more than my bike and gear.

It would be really helpful if they had two different names to describe the business model. How about “Gearfitter,” vs. “Outfitter.” Or maybe “Huntfitter?”

Failing to solve that problem, I suggested to Jane that she go to our local outfitter for hiking gear in Sarasota and find what she likes and then purchase the one that will fit me and send it to me. We’re planning a hike in Italy at some point and that should solve that problem as well.

Next, I loaded up my ham radio equipment and went down the road to the local park. I found an empty plastic water bottle, partially filled it and tossed my antenna wire almost fifty feet (fifteen meters) up into a tree. It managed to get partially tangled and I figured I might have trouble getting it down, but I’d worry about that later.

Radio station on a park concrete picnic table. The pink device is a roller I keep the antenna wire and string on. The white thing on the left is headphones. The black thing in the box is a Yaesu FT-817ND ham radio. The computer is a Samsung Chromebook, running Linux. The yellow box on the right is a heavy duty carrying case for delicate things.

With everything hooked up and ready to go, I tried to tune the antenna system to the band I wanted to operate on, twenty meters. The antenna wouldn’t tune. Back in Missoula, I had help making a cable that I had lost and the new cable appeared to not work. It turns out the cable was fine, but the jack that it plugs into was slightly damaged when I Jerry-rigged something to make it work. The new cable wouldn’t contact the old jack, it was as if the antenna wasn’t attached.

I took the tuner apart and with an alligator clip, I bypassed the connector and made things work.

The tuner all apart with an alligator clip to connect the antenna. Life in the field.

After wasting all that time I finally communicated with stations in Indiana, California, Michigan and Illinois. I like to chat once I connect with someone and I had some fine chats. I was using a digital mode that is much like a chat room on the Internet, but instead of over cables, the communications is point-to-point, via the computer and radio. Thanks to radio stations W9SMR/9, NO8R, N6YFM, K9DEB and KC9UR for bearing with me.

After about four hours it was time to put it away and go eat. I tugged on the antenna wire to get it down from the tree. It was firmly caught. Tugging on it attracted a squirrel and it came over to see what was going on. I waited until it was really close and then gave a strong tug. I thought the squirrel was going to jump out of its skin. It did a perfect ten-point back-flip and then landed on the limb and scampered away. I couldn’t help laughing. Amazingly, the bottle pulled free and dropped to the ground. Usually, I lose a piece of wire and some string in these circumstances.

I brought everything back to the motel, put the batteries on charge, and went out for pizza. Now it is time to pre-pack for morning and head east once again. I’m hoping to ride to either Fort Benton or Geraldine, Montana, tomorrow. In about a week or less, I hope to be in North Dakota. Here’s hoping.


Author: Dennis Blanchard

Dennis Blanchard was born in Bristol, Connecticut. He and his wife Jane moved to New Hampshire in 1980 where he has climbed thirty 4000-foot mountains, biked the trails and enjoyed the wilderness. Never living very far from the Appalachian Trail, Dennis was always aware of the seductive siren’s call to hike it. Dennis is an electronics engineer who has freelanced for amateur radio, technical and motorcycle adventure magazines. He now lives in Sarasota, Florida.

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