May 2022 brought the need fora drive to Florida to combine the urge for a Road trip with picking up my wife who had spent a week with friends. It is kind o like a vacation with a mission. A scenic drive followed with some friends time at couple of days at a time. On the way there we would spend some time with friends in Hampstead, NC.
Thus, time to plan this radio adventure. This time there were many more restrictions – like my wife’s car! Since holes for antenna mounts are not an option, hood and trunk are of aluminum, and the roof is mostly of glass (yes, massive sunroof!), how can I mount respectable and usable antennas – NOT an option!
After much deliberation, the radio options became:
- APRS – a must!
- HF would be impossible.
- VHF/UHF – yes, but for what? Too many (dead) repeaters to program, so too much fuzz.
- CB for local road updates? It has always been our best up-to-the-moment source of why the traffic stopped.
- GMRS as the replacement for CB? Although GMRS is growing with leaps and bounce there is no standard. Therefore, what to program? In the NYC area, GMRS without a PL becomes constant scratchy noise. Maybe it is OK as one leaves the Metro area?
- HotSpot in car for DMR? A must since it simply works.
- HotSpot in car for D-Star? New for me, but why not?
- Stay Entertained while it’s only the dog and me. When wife is onboard, the radios are put away and we enjoy the drive together.
- Let fam and friends watch my progress on APRS! A must.
- Have a tool to communicate road and traffic updates along the major Interstate Corridor.
As we all know, since we all have cellphones, Google Map with traffic and reroute, and numerous “pads” in the car running apps to support the travel, the need for radio communications has all but gone away. Other than the fact that as traffic comes to a halt the most timely information still is by CB, few people are monitoring or actively communicating by radio.
Since the dog and I would be doing the 2-day trek southbound alone, the temporary mobile ham-shack had to become limited, but also needed some experimentation. For a race where I coordinate the SAG team I had created a “suitcase” APRS Tracker/iGate GO-BOX. The box has
- Cigarette lighter power supply with a automatic switch-over to e LifePO4 12ah battery (nice and light). This keeps the power supply stable for the numerous micro processors.
- Peplink / Pepmax LTE router to 3 ethernet ports and WiFi for networking.
- A Baofeng UV-5 to receive APRS data for the I-Gate
- Microsat WX3in1 TNC as a APRS Smart Tracker and APRS I-Gate
- OpenSpot 1 for DMR
Additionally for the trip:
- Stacked on the top of the APRS GO-BOX:
- Motorola XPR4550 (shown)
- Hytera MD782G (not shown) for GMRS
The GO-BOX was placed on the passenger seat and held in place by the seatbelt.
The antenna solution was 2 small UHF magmout on the aft portion of the sunroof. This location provided enough metal to hold the short antennas. On the trunk one lip NMO mount held a VHF looking 11m antenna. This was the least visible installation for RF communications.
The APRS Go-Box was perfect. I would switch on the backup power in the morning and as soon as the car started, the power source would switch to car power. At stops and during starting, the LifePO4 backup power would again keep all microprocessors and the internet connection stable – Absolutely Perfect! The Pepmax LTE Router was equipped with a Wilson magmount cell antenna. This 4″ stick with a very strong antenna was put on the steel sides of the sun roof.
This APRS Tracker system in the case is simply flawless. I normally do not beacon RF. Thus, de-sensing of radios (even FM) in the car does not exist. I can, however, supplement with RF beacons if needed from the UV-5. No need along major roads. To make it easier for my friends a family to look up my vehicle on the APRS.fi website, I create an url with the filters I want and hide it in a sub domain name like knut.xyz.com. This link was texted to family and friends and they all could monitor my progress with a single click – Absolutely Perfect.
What Didn’t Work:
- 100% of QSOs were via Hot Spots.
- Live monitoring of GMRS was useless. Nobody on the road used GMRS. I did not monitor FRS channels. Although GMRS is growing like with leaps and bounce there does not seem to be a “Road Channel”. [Idea: Maybe it is time promote a road channel system?]
- The CB has always been a “goto” when the interstate stops. It still works. My curiosity was CB FM to see if people are starting to convert – Not so far.
- The only extra receiver in the system was the XPR4550 which monitored 70cm simplex both on FM Analog and DMR – Absolutely Nothing!
There always seems to be a next trip. With the crazy airlines (cancellations, prices, pain etc) I tend to be much more relaxed when driving. To be able to control my destiny in time and place is more important the expedited travel. I also love to see the country from the ground and not from the air.Being a passenger on an airline is no longer special like it used to be. Therefore there will be another road trip out of need. The future Road Go-Box is in development. It will be based on the Orange APRS Tracker and Hot-Spots. The question is the RF gear?
- APRS Go-Box
- Hot-Spots with HTs
- CB – Hard to get rid of this for when the road comes to a standstill