A Little Story

“Yes you can, but…”

Back in the 80s, I went to Clipperton twice. Each time with different teams. The first, in 1985 was a large, multinational group. The second a year later was a much smaller group, all closely related to North California. These were my first DXpeditions. Prior to these trips I hadn’t thought of DXpeditioning myself. I had wondered if I was qualified, and whether I should even throw my hat in the ring. When asked however, I jumped at the chance to participate, and it worked out, at least for me. Little did I know at the time how much of a learning experience each of these trips would be.

How the two groups worked out, and what I learned would eventually provide the material for some very useful lessons. In the first case, I learned quite a bit about personalities and how they all worked together – or didn’t. That one eventually defined the difficult job of leadership. The second case was one of much greater unity. We were all familiar with one another, and worked much more smoothly together. It was a dream. But there was still more to learn.

A short time after these trips, some of the team members learned that not everyone in the world has the same point of view regarding how you — as a group – performed as DXpeditioners. This was many long years ago, but some lessons take a long time to fully understand. If you go on such a trip, your return home will be lots of fun. Your friends will all be very happy about their accomplishments – working you.

At some point though, another truth may emerge. If you want to learn how well you really performed – on a worldwide scale – visit one of the target areas – the difficult ones – and make your case to those DXers. Depending on how honest your hosts are, you might see and hear a different point of view of your success.

In both of our cases, as we returned home, we were overwhelmed with praise about how well we performed. It was great. Everyone was happy. Of course, those greeting us were the noted locals, all having a “chip shot” to Clipperton and filling their logs with QSOs from the long to the short wavelengths. But, a few months later, some cracks appeared in the picture. In the mail, I received a letter from one of our southern contingent containing a translation of an article that appeared in the Spanish CQ magazine (Spain). It contained considerable criticism about how we had handled the European operators; what we had done wrong.

Sometime later, while preparing for a trip to Auckland Island (ZL9), I had the opportunity to meet Martti, OH2BH in Las Vegas. (I was traveling and made a point to change my return flight from Chicago to pass through Las Vegas so that we could meet for an evening.) During that evening, Martti and I spend many hours talking and discussing DXpeditioning. We talked until the sun came up. In that one evening I learned more about DXing and DXpeditioning than on any single occasion since.

Of course, what I learned wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear. But, it had become more than clear after our Clipperton trip that we hadn’t satisfied the whole audience. So the increased clarity was helpful. Though the trip was conducted at the bottom of the sunspot cycle, solar storms notwithstanding, we still could have done better. When we had those difficult openings, we hadn’t made the best of the opportunities. We faced the “Wall of Sound” hardly even recognizing what it was.

Today, many DXers and contesters believe that if they can pull a callsign out of a pileup, they can be successful DXpeditioners. Without a doubt, finding calls in the pileup is an important DXpeditioning skill. But it is only the tip of the iceberg. Contesting requires an important skillset. DXpeditioning also requires an important skillset – a somewhat different one – though there is some overlap.  If you are very good at one, however, you are not necessarily equally good at the other. A DXpedition is not a contest, and if you think it is, you will likely fail when trying your non-native activity.

To succeed as a DXpeditioner, a Contester or a DXer, start with an open mind and learn what you can from those “who can.” More than anything, understand that an education is the process of learning what you don’t know. If you ignore this, you will very likely fail.

N7NG for the DX University

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1 thought on “A Little Story

  1. Hello Wayne, I always enjoy your Blog and the “nuggets” that are contained inside.

    Nowadays, the bad news is instant. I have tried to make a rule for myself not to check the DXing forum on Eham or the NCDXC chat during the DXpedition but I slip and take a look and almost always wish I had not.

    Most DXers are reasonable and understand the many challenges facing a DXpedition. Some do not. During E30FB, there was some grumbling on chat about the team’s failure to work the West Coast on the low bands. Were those expectations for a DXpedition in Eastern Africa reasonable in March? I think not.

    The UK reflector is another place that a Dxpeditioner ought not to look during his DXpedition as praise is minimal and the arm chair experts are out in full force. Some of the worst critics are Dxpeditioners of long ago who did it during a more simple and refined time. Perhaps they need to get out there and do it again.

    Expectations are so very high these days for DXpeditions. Recent DXpeditions to Amsterdam, Navassa, Malpelo, Desecheo and other places have raised that bar very high.

    My biggest challenge on a DXpedition is keeping up my stamina and getting some rest. I have made the mistake of operating a big EU pileup after travelling for 30 hours and then spending eight hours setting up antennas. It wasn’t pretty and EU did not appreciate my effort. I was bashed by my “idol” at the time and my entry as a Dxpeditioner was certainly not warm and welcoming.

    During the 7O6T DXpedition, I was one of a few phone Ops. I had a head cold and had taken some Ny Quil to knock myself out. Just minutes after I went to bed one of the Russian team members woke me up and said I was needed on 12 meters SSB.

    I sat down for about ten minutes and tried to work a horrendous EU pileup but I was barely coherent. I said “I cant do this” and went back to bed. I had tried to face that challenge and in that instant I failed but I don’t regret the decision to pull the plug in that moment.

    Things are always happening behind the scenes during a DXpedition. It is very difficult to always put on the best show possible.

    I tell new Dxpeditioners to pace themselves and strive to be at their best on the radio. Try to become well rested and maintain your stamina. Remember two things. 1) Try to have fun. 2) You don’t know what you don’t know.

    Things are changing and evolving. The game has changed considerably. Pileups are different beasts than they were long ago. There is less refinement or gentlemanly behavior.

    Some say these are the good old days. I think they are for the many DXers out there but for the Dxpeditioners I am not so sure.

    Best wishes always,

    Paul N6PSE

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