QRP DX: The Ultimate Challenge

The “Mythical” Diablo DXers of the East Bay of San Francisco

When I got back into Ham Radio in 2001 my goal was DXCC Honor Roll. My specific goal was Honor Roll with 100 watts and wire antennas. Then I bumped that up to 200 watts when I purchased a Yaesu FT-1000D Mark II – or whatever that rig was. I almost hit 300 DXCC entities that way and then an amplifier and aluminum a tower had to go up.

My point is – as I went up the “DXCC Ladder”, the cost of Ham Radio went up. Did I get the return on my investment spending so much to just make some “award”? No – I am sure not – at that point it was an expensive obsession. But nevertheless, I am glad I did that and got it out of my system. I just had to do it!

Now that I am solidly in just the opposite “trajectory” – spending less on Ham Radio and with QRP – I am finding this journey to be much more rewarding. Ironically, my “award” is of my own making – a joke really – that I call “The Free Range QRP DX CW 300 Challenge”.

Turns out, the award is a joke – but the fun is very serious. In fact, not to denigrate my QRO achievement of DXCC Honor Roll – but I have to admit – once you go QRP and you pick up a “Head of Steam”, there is no going back to QRO.

Typical QRPers . . . Less is most definitely More . . . 

There is a parallel here – I got back into playing guitar after a break of 30 years or so. I am MUCH better now than then. Back in the 80’s I think I wanted more to play in a band in San Francisco – and I was so distracted – my musicianship flat lined and I was on a plateau. This summer – I have been writing little songs while playing chords and note progressions and concentrating a little bit more on really understanding what I am doing – and understanding music theory just enough to “get it”. And I now can sit down for an hour and play a non stop set of chord progressions where one song leads into the next and it almost sounds like I just wrote an album worth of music – all of it much better than when I was in a band and playing in those night clubs. It is now an hour of “sonic meditation” and is so much more enjoyable. I have taken the “work” out of play . . . I guess in yoga its when someone experiences “flow”. There is a less is more aspect to this – you know how to just let something happen – you break out of your own self imposed shackles. Its all a state of mind – not a physical thing.

QRO DXCC chasing was my band playing equivalent – after 300 – you just wait for the next mega DXpedition, or the next artificially rare one – and the cost of all of this precludes any decent ROI. QRP and playing guitar again – this time just for the fun of it has eliminated all of that unnecessary pressure. In fact, I have a new rule:

“When a hobby starts feeling like a job – its time to change gears – you are doing your hobby all wrong”.

I’ve been lucky in that my work has been as much fun as my play time. But I have been careful to keep them separate – and I am glad that I have. This way, my entire day is fun – I love work and I love play – and I am sure that one thing helps the other. Compartmentalization is the key. Like going to the gym, we have to exercise our minds, and I’ve found that the juxtaposition of my work thought process and my play thought process help keep each other thing fresh, and flowing with creative new ideas. Like getting past 300 entities toward DXCC HR – working too many hours has a diminishing ROI. In other words – maintaining balance in life is key to creativity and the antidote from burn out.

Going for DXCC Honor Roll #1 was a “bridge too far”. I completely understand the guy who quit Ham Radio completely after making HR #1 – I’ve felt that feeling of “Death March” the closer I got to DXCC HR #1 and the more I spent and knowing it just wasn’t fun any more. To be honest – the last 7 towards just plain old HR became a death march – I was starting to resent the whole thing – but I lucked out – the things I needed just happened to be activated within just over that last year – 2012 and 2013.

The most refreshing thing I’ve done in years is this FREQ 300 – and I capped the total at 300 on purpose – the bar has been set based on about that point where with DXCC HR I hit what was the last “number” or goal where I still felt like it was fun and not a job. I set the bar right at that “zenith” or “cusp” of where pleasure turns to pain. I mean – why cross that line? There is no value in that.

Life isn’t too short for QRP – Do Nothing Extra is a better approach to everything – work and play. Ask yourself “How much is enough?” The answer will vary by person. Make it your own – keep it challenging – but don’t travel to that bridge too far. Go for maximum ROI or quality and the hell with excessive quantity.

Ham Radio and DXing is again as much fun as those “glory days” back when I started DXing, and frankly, I am surprised. I didn’t think anything could be as much fun as that period – but I can report that my latest self imposed DXing pursuit is even better – because it has burn out insurance baked in. The expectations are lower as is the cost – and the ROI is a LOT higher. It has taken me several months to experience what at first was just an idea – now that I have lived it – it has become a thing – a good thing.

In other words – Less is More. Way more. I don’t see myself ever going back to QRO again.

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