The POTA Babe Goes Back to Florida – Day 3

Day 3 of my spring-break Florida POTA trip began well. Those of you who read my “A Confession from the POTA Babe” article know my personal life has been anything but settled as of late. Two weeks prior to the trip, I experienced a traumatic break with a close friend and partner. I hoped this trip would help me move past that event and began putting my life back together.  This was the first morning I woke in two and a half weeks feeling like myself and ready for whatever POTA adventures lay ahead of me.

Day 3 of my spring-break 2024 Florida trip

Participating in the pilot session of CW Innovation’s Comprehensive ICR course in October 2022 introduced me to the concept of a code buddy. A code buddy is someone with  whom you have regular CW QSOs, a trusted friend who keeps you active on the air and with whom you grow your skills. I have two code buddies currently – Caryn KD2GUT and Charles W4CLW. Charles and I usually meet Tuesday mornings at 8 AM EDT and I thought why not try to meet up during the trip.

As noted in my article about the first day of this trip, I had to take down the EFRW at my campsite as per park regulations. I pulled out the Chelegance MC-750 as I thought it might stand a better chance than the AX1 with any noise in the campground. As Charles’ QTH was only 232 miles from my campsite, I figured 40 meters would be the only option for us.

I turned on the KX2 and the noise was horrible. However, Charles cleared a frequency and called QRL. He was a 599 on my end but when it was my turn, he could not hear me at all. Oh well. We at least tried.

I figured since I already had my equipment up and running, why not have an impromptu activation?

I spotted myself on the POTA website and began calling CQ. Within 40 minutes, I had a valid activation. Thirty meters gave me four contacts and 20 meters eight contacts including Manuel WP4TZ in Puerto Rico, another member of the Comprehensive ICR course I am currently facilitating with CW Innovations.

I also had one park-to-park QSO with Dave KQ4CW who was activating US-0567 in Virginia. At this point, it was time to pack up my equipment and head south to Cedar Key Scrub Preserve (US-3611).

QSO Map for Manatee Springs 4-2-24 Activation Source: http://tools.adventureradio.de/analyzer/

On the drive southward, I noticed lots of yellow flowers (I think dandelions) along the road as well as wild verbena. I enjoyed the encounters with the natural world I had on this trip. The previous day, I had several different caterpillar species visit me during my activations. They ended up on my clothes as well as my equipment.

During today’s impromptu activation at the campsite, three deer walked  through the area. Nature galore!

a tussock moth caterpillar
a Tent caterpillar
possibly a salt marsh moth caterpillar

Daisy and I arrived at Cedar Key Scrub Preserve (US-3611) around 11:30 AM. It was fairly warm at this hour of the day so I set up in the shade generated by Kai and some overhead trees. I chose to work with the Chelegance MC-750 again.

This activation proved to be a busy one, all on twenty meters. Over the course of 50 minutes, I logged 32 contacts including one DX with Chris F6EAZ in France, a QSO with another team member in my class – Pat K2SCH, and one park-to-park QSO with Jeff KF4VE at US-4857 in Virginia.

At this point, the sun had overtaken Daisy and I. We were beginning to roast so it was time to call QRT.

QSO Map for Cedar Key Scrub Preserve Source: http://tools.adventureradio.de/analyzer/
USA Only QSO Map for Cedar Key Scrub Preserve Source: http://tools.adventureradio.de/analyzer/

I had planned to take a walk at Cedar Key Scrub Preserve but due to the warm temperatures and foliage that would not provide much shade, I scrubbed (yes, you can groan) that plan, packed up, and headed further south to Cedar Key.

The town of Cedar Key is made of small islands (called keys) linked together by bridges. We navigated over them to Cedar Key Museum State Park (US-3610).

Unfortunately, the museum was closed for maintenance. But, as I surveyed the site, I saw a shady bench beckoning me.

A QTH with potential!

I set up the Chelegance MC-750, Daisy sprawled out for a nap, and I got down to business.

This activation ran slower than the previous one. I ended up with 25 QSOs on 20 meters in an hour. However, it was pleasant to relax in the shade, enjoy the breeze, and not be in a rush. In fact, after the activation and everything was packed up, Daisy and I relaxed at this spot for a good thirty minutes, soaking in the experience.

On the drive back to my campsite, I received an unexpected call. It was the close friend and partner I thought I had lost several weeks ago.  I pulled off to the side of the road. The conversation was a heart-felt and cathartic one.

I had a choice to make. There were three days remaining in my trip and potentially four more parks I could activate toward my 60 new-to-me activation goal.  Or I could choose to step through the door that just opened. It didn’t take me long to decide.

This spring-break Florida trip was a productive one. I activated six parks toward my goal, used two antennas with which I was not very familiar, and camped on my own. I also did what I set out to do in my “A Confession from the POTA Babe” article – savor the beauty around me, think, reflect, and be. I cancelled the remainder of the trip to visit this cherished person with the joy of reconciliation.

It doesn’t matter if it is POTA or your personal life; relationships are what matter. This POTA Babe has learned her lesson and has her priorities in the correct order now. Thanks to all of you who continue to share my adventures. They are far from over.

Equipment Used

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K3ES’ Eclipse Clean Sweep!

An Eclipse Clean Sweep

by Brian (K3ES)

Eclipse totality, as seen from US-8785, complete with corona.

My home QTH is located near Tionesta, PA, and the path of the 2024 eclipse put us near, but not in, the path for totality.  At home we would have more than 99.5% of the sun’s disc obscured.  I will confess that the distinction between 99.5% and totality was lost on me, but Becky was insistent that she wanted to be in the path of totality, because it gives a unique view when the sun’s disc is completely obscured by the moon.  At that point, only a halo of the sun’s corona remains visible.  Becky was right.  It was well worth the effort to get in the path of totality.

My contribution was to find a public area within the path of totality that would not be swarmed by traffic, cars, and people.

The Eclipse Plan

It turned out that we could be within the totality path by driving less than 20 miles from home.  We could also do this by driving away from population centers, rather than driving toward them.  Places like Erie, PA were expecting tens of thousands of people to visit.  I later heard stories of miles-long traffic jams, and hours of delay experienced by Erie pilgrims.  I hoped to, and thankfully managed to, avoid that fate.

After identifying that this section of PA State Game Land 086 was in the path for eclipse totality, a satellite view helped to identify open fields for viewing and activating.

I found that portions of Pennsylvania State Game Land 086 (coincidentally also POTA entity US-8785) lay within the totality zone.  Using a variety of on-line maps, I was able to find a parking area near the start of a gated Game Land road.

The road passed next to a series of small fields (satellite images are definitely helpful!).  Such fields are not uncommon at Game Lands, because it provides the opportunity for hunters to cross paths with rabbits and pheasants, both of which were out-of-season in April.  But, those same fields should have an unobstructed view of the sky.  So, we headed hopefully toward our selected parking lot, with plans to set up folding chairs (and a portable radio station) in one of the fields, as long as a parking space remained.

The POTA Plan

I had previously activated US-8785, making contacts on only the 40m band.  At that time, the goal had been a quick activation during a rove.  Lately, I have been working hard to accumulate contacts on 10 bands at multiple parks, inching my way closer to POTA’s N1CC award for making contacts on 10 bands from 10 different parks.

Prior to eclipse day, I had completed contacts on 10 bands from each of seven different parks.  While two or three of those contacts were made using VHF FM mode, my preferred method for achieving my goal at a park is to use CW mode and QRP power levels to make contacts on high frequency (HF) bands from 10m to 80m, and to also make CW QRP contacts on 160m (which is technically a medium frequency band).

The challenge with the 160m band (and the 80m band, to some extent) is that it generally works best after sunset.  Given that there would be an abnormal sunset occurring at 3:20 pm EDT, might it be possible to get a 160m contact during or near the period of totality?  That would be my quest.

So, I picked my equipment to give me the ability to rapidly move between bands.  I paired my KX3, with its excellent tuner and 160m to 6m coverage, with my VK160 homebrew 9:1 end-fed random wire (EFRW) antenna.  The story of VK160 design and construction and VK160 testing during Winter Field Day 2022 has previously been told in these pages (links provided), but suffice it to say that the radiating wire is 144 ft long.

If the crowds were sparse enough, I hoped to set it up as a shallow inverted V (I normally get a throw line up 30 to 40 ft, which is small in comparison to the antenna’s total length) along the wood line bordering the field.  I also brought two Bioenno LiFePO4 batteries that would normally be able to power my station for the large part of a day.  I chose battery redundancy, because there would be no opportunity for a re-do.

My operating plan was to make contacts on as many bands as possible.  I would start with 10m before the start of the eclipse, and work my way down in frequency, hopefully after making one or more contacts on each successive band.  I also needed to manage my time, so that I would get some time on each of the low bands – 60m, 80m, and 160m as the eclipse neared totality.  Since I already had contacts from a prior activation, I would not work 40m unless I had completed contacts on the other 9 bands.

Gear

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Eclipse Day

My cousin joined Becky and I for the outing to see the eclipse.  We all hoped that the afternoon would be memorable.  As we drove to our selected location, traffic was unexpectedly light, but the sky was overcast. There had been rain earlier in the morning, but the clouds seemed to be thinning as the day progressed, and we remained hopeful during the drive, particularly as glimpses of blue sky became apparent.

A final stretch on a dirt road brought us to the Game Land parking lot, a cleared patch of gravel, which was… empty!!!  It seemed that I had either planned well, or guessed right.  Either way, I was happy with the starting point!

We passed out the folding chairs from the back of the truck, shouldered our bags, and started the half-mile walk back the road to find our field.  We saw no vehicles and no people on the way in.  We did hear a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers drumming on branches near the side of the road, and we saw a Red-tailed Hawk and some Turkey Vultures soaring overhead.  It all made for an enjoyable walk, and the clouds continued to thin, with patches of blue emerging as the clouds continued their journey overhead.

Setting Up the Station

Here, I am preparing to throw a line to support the VK160.  I selected a tree somewhat distant from my planned operating location, so that apex would be located at about the midpoint of the radiating wire.
I used the K4SWL sling method of throwing the arborist line for this deployment.  While I am much more accurate using the “granny shot” throwing method, the sling method can get the line consistently higher.
I am deploying one of the three radial wires used with the VK160.  If you look closely, you can see the antenna feedpoint hanging behind me, level with my hat brim.  The cord holding the feedpoint can be seen just above my head.

When we arrived at the field, I scouted out a location for my antenna.  A tall tree at the woodline seemed to have a number of great branches high above the ground.  I broke out my arborist line, made my throw, and missed.  I repeated the process a couple more times, then snagged a light branch just a bit lower than I had hoped, but it would be sufficient.

Unwrapping the antenna (it takes a while to spool out 144 ft of wire) I found that it would stretch across the width of the field, and a bit further along one edge, so up it went in a bent inverted V.  A length of 550 cord secured it to a tree branch on the far side of the field, and a bit of light cord held the feed point to a tree branch near my chair.  This done, I connected and stretched out three counterpoise wires, connected the RG316 feed line, and started assembling the station.

On the Air

I am preparing for operation.  Station equipment is on the clipboard in my lap.  The antenna feedpoint can be seen at upper right.  The 15 ft RG316 feedline runs downward from the feedpoint, along the ground, and up to my operating position.
On the air with the KX3 set for 5 watts CW.
Working for a contact on 12m.
Continuing to work contacts as the light dims.  Chairs for Becky and my cousin are about 100 ft down the field from my operating position.
Between contacts I could quickly don my fashionable eclipse glasses to safely monitor progress, as the moon’s shadow progressed across the sun.

I was quickly ready to hit the air.  Having scheduled the activation in advance, I was not worried about cell service, but found that I had enough to verify my initial spot, as well as subsequent band changes.  As planned, I started on  the 10m band.  It took some time before my CQ call was returned.  After logging it, I called for a bit longer, then switched over to the 12m band, where things took a different turn. Continue reading K3ES’ Eclipse Clean Sweep!

The POTA Babe Goes Back to Florida – Day 2

Day 2 of my spring-break Florida POTA trip began well. The night before, I left the rain fly off one corner of the tent, the one out of which I could look when lying on my Thermarest pad listening to the bird song all around us. There must be something about being outside because I had the soundest and most sleep I’d experienced in several weeks.

someone is not ready to get out of bed yet
Day 2 of my April Florida trip

We headed to the Nature Coast State Trail first as I was concerned about the temperature due to the sunny forecast. We found the Old Town trailhead, parked, and walked toward the trail’s bridge over the Suwannee River. Not far from the bridge, I spied a bench with an overhang and thought it would make a great QTH.

Old Town trailhead parking area
the trail
flowers along the trail
potential QTH

I had left the Chelegance MC-750 in the car as I wished to work with the AX1 today. It wasn’t long before I had it installed on the Joby Gorillapod ready for 40 meters. I turned on the KX2, put on my earbuds, and was greeted by NOISE, S5-S7 noise.

Well, noise happens and I typically find it on 40 meters than any other band when I activate. Undaunted, I tweaked the AX1 and moved to 30 meters. I found less noise (S3-S4) but no one answered my CQ. Now I was getting worried.

I removed the 40 meter coil from the AX1 and tried 20 meters. Now 20 meters didn’t sound that noisy; however, I had no callers. I found the same on 17 meters. What the heck?

And then I noticed the power lines across the road. How they had escaped my notice I have no idea. They weren’t just your typical power lines but also high-voltage power lines. That had to be the source of the noise. I felt like an idiot not even noticing them. The AX1 is a compromised antenna to begin with and, in those conditions, I don’t think it stood a chance.  Note: I later learned the band conditions were not great that morning either.

Deflated, I packed everything up and walked a little ways up the trail to the bridge crossing the Suwanne River. After a few moments to enjoy the view, I headed toward my second park – Fanning Springs State Park. It was but a 5 minute drive from the Old Town trailhead. I began  looking for somewhere to set up. Good news – not many power lines.

Suwannee River

I found a grassy field/parking area off to the side and set up there. My riding instructor would always say “Set your horse up for success.” Well, this I thought was a more successful situation for the AX1 (at least I hoped it would be). Once the AX1 was installed on top of my car, I got down to business.

AX1 on top of the car on Joby Gorillapod

I didn’t do well on 40 meters (only one caller in Florida) or 30 meters (no response). I removed the 40 meter coil and set up shop on 20 meters. Would anyone hear me today? YES! Over the next 20 minutes, I logged eight contacts including Dan N0ZT who is in my current Comprehensive ICR class for CW Innovations.

At this point, I only had nine total contacts, not enough for a valid activation. Hearing no more responses to my CQ on 20 meters, I headed to 17. After a while, Craig KC3TRT responded to my CQ. Over the next ten minutes, nine ops had a QSO with me including Raffaele IK4IDF in Italy. Whew – a valid activation.

QSO Map for Fanning Springs State Park
QSO Map (USA contacts) for Fanning Springs State Park
The springs (as close as we could get as dogs are not allowed near them)

By now I was worn out and decided to regroup back at the campsite. I felt kicked in the keister over the failed activation in the morning. There are five trailheads for the Nature Coast State Trail. Maybe I could find a section without power lines (not likely) and maybe the conditions in the late afternoon/early evening would be better.

After an early supper and a few minutes to read, Daisy and I headed back to the trail for another attempt. Yes, there were power lines (but not high voltage ones) near the trailhead I chose in Chiefland. It was peaceful on this section of the trail. We ambled along until I found another bench like I saw that morning.

AX1 with radials

I opted to sit instead in my Helinox chair on the ground with Daisy to my right and the AX1 to my left. There was thick foliage in front of me as well as a park area that I hoped would provide a buffer from any RFI from the businesses on that side of the trail. I took a breath and called QRL. I picked 20 meters thinking that might be my best bet this time of day, around 6 PM.

Guess what? The AX1 delivered!

I had 18 contacts in 30 minutes including a QRP-to-QRP QSO with Karl K5KHK in New York. I also had one park-to-park QSO with David WN1E at US-0897. I practically floated back to the car and then celebrated with a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone from Dairy Queen.

QSO Map for Nature Coast State Trail
Way more ice cream than I needed but it was good!

People don’t talk about the emotional component that comes with morse code. My life has been an emotional rollercoaster as of late and that failed activation felt like another punch in the gut.

You know the ops that I see make the most progress, in general and in the class I facilitate with CW Innovations? Those with determination.

They don’t give up but persevere despite their struggles. Life is really tough for me right now but I have to hang in there as I did with this activation. You never know when success or for what you are waiting will be around the corner.

For day 3, I’ll head south toward Cedar Key. What antenna will I choose to use and how will those activations go? Stay tuned…

Equipment Used

[Note: All Amazon, CW Morse, ABR, Chelegance, eBay, and Radioddity links are affiliate links that support QRPer.com at no cost to you.]

Getting Started with HF Digital Modes (Without Breaking the Bank)

Many thanks to Joe (N0LSD) who shares the following guest post:


Getting Started with HF Digital Modes – Without Breaking the Bank

by Joe (N0LSD)

Amateur radio can be an expensive hobby:  the reasons are myriad, made more difficult for newcomers because they tend to not have the experience to know what their requirements might be.  Brick-and-mortar stores where one might bounce ideas off knowledgeable staff, browse the aisles, and walk away with a suitable set-up are pretty few and far between.  Similarly, asking on various internet forums will often be met with, “It depends…” –followed by a wall of text filled with jargon and terminology that can be…intimidating.

For newcomers that maybe don’t have the time to invest in learning CW right off the hop, and perhaps get a bit of mic fright, digital modes such as FT8, JS8, and the like tend to be a great fit.  While “shack-in-a-box” solutions by the big-name manufacturers offer convenience, this convenience comes at a price that can be cost-prohibitive.

What follows is a QRP digital modes kit that I’ve experimented with over the last year.  No single piece of this kit cost more than US$150, and the entire kit can be had for under US$600.  What’s more, nearly everything can be purchased from Amazon.

We’ll start with the most expensive part of this kit:  the radio, which is the Tr(u)SDX.  It can be had on Amazon for US$138, and covers 20m, 30m, 40m, 60m, and 80m bands.  It is a quirky little radio with a sub-par speaker and a tiny little microphone.

The Tr(u)SDX is just about as bare-bones as one can get with an HF transceiver, and is decidedly a compromise.  However, unlike other ultra-compact transceivers, this one will do CW, it will do voice, and it will do *any* digital mode.  It can run on USB power at 1 watt output (micro-USB port on the side of the case); but it can also run on 12v (nominal) power via a 5.5mm x 2.1mm barrel connector on the top of the unit.

I’m powering this radio with a US$43 battery bank (Romoss Sense8P+), and a USB-C to 5.5 x 2.1mm cable (US$8.99) –both available on Amazon.  This battery bank will keep the Tr(u)SDX going for hours –long enough to do multiple POTA activations.  And, because there’s no special adapters, the battery bank can be re-charged in the same manner as a cell phone –or even off a small solar panel.

The sound card interface is the Digirig (US$57) with a US$19.97 cable that is TRRS 3.5mm on one end, and breaks out separate Mic and Speaker 3.5mm TRS.  Now, I will say that a recent firmware revision on the Tr(u)SDX has been demonstrated by the developers of the radio to allow for audio through the micro-USB connector of the radio – so the use of a sound card interface *may* be redundant.  However, in viewing the demonstration video for this, it seems rather dependent upon finding the right micro-USB to USB-A cable; with no clear indication on where one can obtain a cable that meets the specification.  Now, add a USB-C to USB-A or a USB-C to USB-C cable to interface with the computing device, and we’re in business!

So far we have a radio, power, and a way to get sound in and out of the radio.  Now, let’s talk about antennas.  Of course, one can homebrew an antenna for the cost of parts and time in construction and testing.  For the kit I’m using, I went with the N9SAB OCF Dipole –specifically because I do a lot of 80m QRP work.  Also available from N9SAB is a 6m-80m random-wire end-fed for US$89.99 from his eBay store.

If using a non-resonant antenna, an antenna tuner will be needed:  I went with the ATX-100 (US$126 from Amazon).  The reason I went with this is because it recharges with USB-C, which is consistent with everything else in this kit.

For coax, I personally use Times Microwave LMR-240 –a 50-foot length terminated in BNC is US$65 on Amazon.  For something less bulky, perhaps RG-316 from ABR Industries (abrind.com) might fit the bill  The ABR-240 coax at 50-feet in length is US$58.  For a jumper from the tuner to the radio, I use a 3ft RG316 cable from Amazon – which cost me US$13.99.

All that’s left is a device to run software…this can be a Raspberry Pi, or one’s laptop, certainly –however, these are bulky and require special power…and are a pain to re-charge easily.  Another solution is something one might already have:  an Android smartphone.  There are apps (some free, some paid) for RTTY, PSK31/63, WSPR, SSTV – these have been out for some time.  Additionally, one can do many of the modes contained in FLDigi, using the AndFLMsg app (not available on the Play Store –one has to download the .apk file from a 3rd party).  However, what I’ve been using –especially on POTA activations – is FT8CN.  This allows for full-function FT8 using just an Android phone –which can also be charged via USB-C.

[Note: eBay, Amazon and ABR links below are affiliate/partner and support QRPer.com at no cost to you]

Tr(u)SDX $138.00 Amazon
N9SAB Random Wire End-Fed $89.95 N9SAB eBay Store
ATU-100 Antenna Tuner $126.00 Amazon
RG316 Coax Jumper (3ft) $13.99 Amazon
USB-C to 5.5×2.1mm cable $8.99 Amazon
ABR-240 50 ft Coax $58.00 abrind.com
Romoss Sense8P+ Battery Bank $42.99 Amazon
DigiRig MobileSoundcard Interface $49.97 digirig.net/store
uSDX Cable for DigiRig Mobile $19.97 digirig.net/store
Total $547.86

This kit is –for sure– a compromise:  one isn’t going to bust pile-ups or win contests with it  However, for a “starter kit” that can easily be carried in a small backpack that can not only be used for HF digital modes, but also can do SSB voice and CW, it will at least get an operator on the air and enjoying the bands –without breaking the bank.

Gordon’s Simple AM-801 Alligator Clip Mod

Many thanks to Gordon (KF5JWL) who writes:

Tom,

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and finally tried it.

I attached an alligator clip to the AM-801 [window antenna mount] so it could be used to connect a counterpoise. Turns out alligator clips (at least the Mueller version I had lying around) have a toothy clip part at one end and a banana jack or socket at the other end. I didn’t want to go down the Google rabbit hole to find out if this is standard on all alligator clips. The clip also has a 6-32 threaded hole between the two ends so I drilled a clearance hole (using a #28 drill) in the AM-801 near the edge and attached the clip with a stubby 6-32 screw.

My trusty automatic center punch apparently failed to make a significant impression in the AM-801 so my drill bit wandered somewhat and the resulting hole was not exactly where I wanted it but I was still able to connect the alligator clip.

73,

Gordon KF5JWL

Thanks, Gordon! That’s a clever addition to the AM-801. Thank you for sharing it with us.

16th Floor QRP: Coffee break portable at the office

Many thanks to Bill (KG4FXG) who shares the following guest post:


Return to the Office:  Operating portable during coffee breaks (Atlanta to England)

by Bill Carter (KG4FXG)

Have you ever thought about operating from your work location?  Perhaps during lunch or a coffee break?  What if that location was downtown in a big city?

In my case, I work in a 17 floor Skyscraper.

The building has several large outside balconies on the 5th, 10th, and 17 floors.  There is also a green space on the 5th floor that is a grassy area with a lawn and trees.  What are all the possibilities here for portable operation? Let’s find out!

Amateur Radio is about learning, and to that end we may build antennas, perhaps QRP Rigs, and other things.  I’ve been building many QRPGuys and Tufteln antennas.  I also use a few that I’ve purchased, such as the Chelegance MC-750, AX1, Gabil Vertical Antenna GRA-7350TC [gear links below].

Sometimes, the weather does not play nice and I’m forced to try operating indoors.  Here I am using the Chelegance MC-750 on the 16th floor where I have clearance all the way to the top of the 17th floor.

The antenna almost touches the ceiling on the 17th floor.  I was able to make a contact in England: John G4RCG.  His location was in Kirkhamgate, Wakefield–about 11 miles from Leeds. We were able to exchange names but that was about it on 20M.

This antenna is amazing, I can’t wait to try it outside in our green space.

I was using the Elecraft KX2 but I have several QRP Rigs that I have brought to the office.  Such as the Norcal 40, Elecraft K1, both of which were kits I built.  I started QRP back in 1999 before there was POTA.  Back then, you had to build your radio.  Most did back then.

Learning about propagation has been interesting.  It is not ideal to operate indoors.  One simple way I test conditions is to see if I can hit the reverse beacon network.

Here’s a screenshot of the Reverse Beacon (below) while I was using the Chelegance MC-750 on 20 meters:

(Click to enlarge)

Simple Office Setup

I work for the railroad.  You will notice my mug says Taggart.  Some humor here, but that is from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.  Story about a railroad and so much more.

Here is the Green Space on the 5th floor.  Could you use this space for portable operations?

Here is pictured where I operated off the 10th floor balcony.  The view is amazing!

For the balcony, I just throw a wire over the glass railing.  The balcony is huge with many tables and chairs for lunch.  I have used K4SWL’s Speaker Wire antenna build here.

My hours are very unusual.  I normally work from 2AM to 5PM and I leave to drive home at 11AM.  I love telecommuting for work these days.  So, when I operate, it is around 3AM or 4AM.  Not ideal times for POTA, but a great time of day to work DX!

I have so much more to try.  I have a Spiderbeam Pole and SOTABEAMS Pole that I am playing with as well.  I also have the Alex Loop Antenna that I will try from work.

Another operating position: here I am inside running RG-316 through the door to the 10th Floor Balcony.  I am using Thomas’s Speaker Wire antenna here.

One of the challenges that I face at 3AM is cold temperatures and wind.  There can be wind around these large buildings that can make operating difficult.  In cases of cold weather, I just opt for the little table and chair next to the door.  Besides, the coffee stays warmer longer inside!

New buildings make it very difficult if not impossible to get an RF signal out.  Getting an antenna outside is key.  And even then, that does not guarantee success.  The building’s corners have glass conference rooms.  You feel like you are outside, but I haven’t found a really good location for QRP.  That said, there are many more options to try.

Have you tried operating from your work location, perhaps at lunch?  Maybe as a POTA chaser?  What is your go-to method and set up?  Check out more of my shack on QRZ.

Bill KG4FXG

Gear:

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The POTA Babe Goes Back to Florida – Day 1

In pursuit of my 60 new-to-me park activations, I headed back to Florida for six days the first week of April. The weather forecast looked promising – high temps in the upper 70s falling to the upper 60s by the end of the week. Rain might dampen my spirits on Wednesday but otherwise, the sun was likely to shine during my journey.

Day 1 of my April 2024 Florida Trip

Daisy and I packed up the car and headed out early Sunday, May 31st. It was an easy journey – three and a half hours south down I-95 and then southwest across Florida. Of course, we stopped at the Florida welcome center and got our picture snapped, this time just the two of us.

Here we again in Florida!

We arrived in Branford which actually did look like a nice place to live. Lafayette Forest Wildlife & Environmental Area (US-6315) is just outside the town. Unlike the wildlife management areas in Georgia I’ve visited, this one looked more manicured. The road into the park could have been the entrance into some genteel Southern plantation.

Not far inside, we found a fenced-in parking area and kiosk. I figured this would be the easiest place to set up. Checking the kiosk, I confirmed we were out of hunting season though we would still wear our blaze orange items for our walk after the activation. (Before we arrived at the park, we actually saw a turkey crossing the road.)

Map of Lafayette WMA

I opted to use the Chelegance MC-750 on the tripod mount because I need more practice with it. That proved to be a good choice as I had to re-read the instructions to set it up – hi hi. This is what happens when you don’t use equipment on a regular basis.  Continue reading The POTA Babe Goes Back to Florida – Day 1

Kansas City to the Countryside: N5DUX’s Work Trip POTA Journey

Many thanks to Tommy (N5DUX) who shares the following guest post:


Work Trip POTA

by Tommy (N5DUX)

I recently had a work trip that took me to lovely Emporia, Kansas – home of Emporia State University. Prior to leaving for the trip, I did a little POTA sleuthing to see if there were any parks in the general region I could activate after I finished work each day. As luck would have it, I found there were indeed a handful locations on the POTA map within a reasonable drive – including one right in town!

One of the locations was a fun looking site called the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve National Conservation Area (US-3673), home to a herd of bison.

Viewing on Google Maps I saw a “scenic lookout” in the middle of the prairie and figured that sounded like a great place to setup.

Packing my suitcase for the trip (there’s work to do, remember!) I included my Buddistick and a collapsable, “450cm” carbon fiber fishing rod. The rest of my kit was in a hand held bag that I would carry with me. My main radio for this activation was my Elecraft KX2.

For an antenna, I brought my a newly built 20W K6ARK EFHW trimmed which I had tuned to work on 40m, 20m, and 10m with the idea of using the fishing pole to hold up the far end of my end-fed. Should that fail or disappoint, I had my Buddistick which is self-supporting thanks to the excellent design of its shock-cord tripod and “tie-down” to keep the whole thing upright in strong winds.

Included in my bag was a 9Ah Bioenno battery, reel of kite string, a throwing weight, notebook for logging, pencil, Elecraft hand mic, Elecraft paddles, some earbuds, and a few other insignificant odds and ends (adapters, pigtails, etc)

When packing radio equipment in your suitcase, remember to not pack any batteries in your checked bag. For carry-on, remember to not pack any pointed objects like tent stakes, screw drivers, or spikes like some vertical antennas like the Chelegence 750 or PAC-12 have. Pack smart – think about what the radio will look like to someone unfamiliar with our hobby.

TSA really doesn’t care about our radios or wires – they just don’t want bricks of organic material surrounded by wires on the plane or sharp pointy things in the cabin.

On Easter Sunday, I flew into Kansas City, picked up a rental car, got a quick bite of BBQ recommended by the guy at the rental car place, and set off. The weather upon arrival was excellent. A nice breeze, sun shining, and warm temps. Lovely. But the weather forecast had told me it wouldn’t last.

While at work on Monday, the temperature began its steady slide as a cold front moved through the area. As soon as the work day was finished, I quickly changed clothes and headed west of Emporia for the Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve.

The weather continued to get cooler and the wind had picked up.

As soon as I arrived, I was greeted by a park ranger leaving. I asked about the bison herd and he told me the scenic overlook I’d picked as my destination was a couple miles down a gravel trail. I ask the ranger if he knew about ham radio and he said there was a group coming in a couple months or something but said I was welcome to setup wherever I pleased. I grabbed my gear, preparing to make the 2 mile hike, and started down the path.

I got about a quarter mile in and cresting the first grassy rise, I realized I’d underestimated just how strong the wind really was and how cold it was going to get if I stayed exposed. I had not worn my thicker coat and realized I wouldn’t last long on the prairie given my attire and the weather to come. Seeing the bison would have to wait.

My carbon fiber fishing pole at Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve in Kansas being held up by a fishing pole holder available from Walmart or Amazon.

I changed course and walked back to a historic ranch situated on the property with some still-used cattle pens. Surveying my options there, I spotted a shelter for the livestock over in the corner of one corral. Eyeing the grassy area in that pen, I decided that was going to be my operating position. No sooner had I chosen my spot when I heard the faintest tick of raindrops hitting the tin roof.

I unfolded my chair in the dirt under the roof then unpacked my radio, pencil, logbook, some trail mix (nabbed from the hotel front desk snack bin), and my water bottle. I unspooled the EFHW and erected the fishing pole to hold up the far end. I connected the antenna and let the Elecraft KX2’s internal tuner do its thing. It found a 1:1 match in no time and everything was set.

Shack in the lap with the KX2.

I dialed through the band to get a sense of conditions on 20m. I listened to a few other POTA stations and was able to work them. I then found an unused frequency, called out, and listened. Nothing heard – I was ready to go. By this point, it was only about 30 minutes total since my arrival – not too bad.

I spotted myself on the POTA site and my first hunter responded to my CQ pretty quickly. This trend continued unabated for quite some time.

When there was a lull in activity, I grabbed a handful of trail mix and was mid-chew when someone called. I tried to swallow and got choked. He’s calling me. I’m trying to clear my throat. Nobody’s around – the best I could muster was a half-wheezy reply to his call. He probably thought my signal dropped a few dB – no old man, it was my voice. A splash of water after we were clear and I was back to normal.

Looking southeast from my activation spot at Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve in Kansas

Around this time, the raindrops decided to spit a little and the wind had definitely picked up. I adjusted my antenna to see if that helped matters. I used my kite string to secure one end of my wire antenna to the stone wall surrounding the pen and moved the fishing pole support from the end near the wall more toward the middle This gave the antenna more of an inverted V configuration.

It actually helped! Whereas before my “sloper” was more of a “sagger”, I actually got an increase in the relative frequency of QSOs. I worked with this configuration for the rest of my stay at the preserve. The wind never let up and the temps continued to slide. I was shivering by the time I finished packing up and the sun had set and darkness was setting in.

My humble livestock pen operating shelter at Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve in Kansas

Back to the rental car and heater, please!

Tuesday brought a similar workday but I planned to activate a historic home there in town after enjoying a dinner at a local restaurant recommended by my hosts. The weather was considerably colder than Monday and it was downright windy. I’m glad I’d worked the nature preserve on Monday and didn’t wait to try on Tuesday!

Rental car portable at the William Allen White House known as “Red Rocks” in Emporia, Kansas

I made my way over to the William Allen White House State Historic Site (US-9183) a few blocks from the university and the dinner spot. With the weather as it was, I opted to sit in the rental car and run my antenna out the top of a cracked window over a couple low branches and over to another large tree branch. I got my rig setup in the car for my first “rental car portable” activation and found it to be considerably more comfortable than the night before. I managed to log about 20 QSOs in short order on 20m until band conditions deteriorated.

On Wednesday, we wrapped up the work project that had brought me to town. We had a final wrap-up meeting with my point of contact there and I headed back to Kansas City. The intent was to grab a quick dinner with a friend, head for the hotel, throw down my stuff and make for the World War I Museum National Memorial (US-4591). The dinner lasted much longer than I’d planned but it was okay. Dinner was with my CO whom I hadn’t seen since I was in the Guard.

We shared a great dinner with his wife, recounting funny stories from our times together and generally getting caught up. I didn’t get to the hotel until very late so I decided I better get some shut-eye and just activate the Museum and Memorial in the morning.

Thursday morning, I packed up everything to get ready for the airport.

My plan for the WW1 Memorial was to find a tree and throw the EFHW there and get some sun while sitting at a park bench or something. It didn’t happen. The strong, cold wind continued. I opted for another “rental car portable” operation. Noticing my “sloper” was again a “sagger,” I pulled the fishing pole out of my suitcase and elevated the antenna wire in the middle. Much better.

A view of the National World War 1 Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri

Band conditions on 20m were rapidly going down the drain and it was hard for me to hear anyone – the big guns that I worked toward the end of my activation provided such poor signal reports, I knew my QRP signal just couldn’t compete with the noise floor that continued to come up.

In total, I managed to bag about 14 QSOs in short order – but it was enough to count as another activation! And, since this was on the Missouri side of Kansas City, it gave me a new state.

I packed up, grabbed some more famous Kansas City BBQ at another local haunt, and headed for the airport to fly home.

The reliable, trusted Buddistick surprisingly never saw the light of day on this trip. It sure was along for the ride, but the EFHW really worked well and I enjoyed the simplicity of it when it came time to pack up. Being less of a compromise antenna led me to believe it would be more efficient anyway.

I’m still somewhat new to POTA and I continue to learn – but this was a memorable work trip because I brought my radio along with me and it took me to some spots I may not have otherwise ventured to visit. The work that brought me to the university went well enough that we began scheduling a return trip slated for sometime in a couple months. I plan on bringing my radio with me for that and on all future work trips in other places.

POTA/SOTA: Why I don’t log signal reports

Many thanks to Peter (YO8CDQ) who writes:

“Why don’t you enter in the log the received RST and the transmitted RST. I know you’re recording with a tape recorder, but the QSOs are real. If you want to send a QSL to a hunter, what kind of RST do you enter in the QSL?”

Great question, Peter, and I’ve been meaning to make a post about this because it’s one of the top questions I receive from readers (along with why I send 72 instead of 73).

The short answer is: it’s a personal preference.

When I log a rag chew or “non-OTA” contact from home–and one that’s under no time pressure–I typically record a true RST; both what I sent and what I received.

During POTA or SOTA, however, I do not log true signal reports. Some activators do, though.  Again, it’s a personal preference, but here are some of the reasons why I do not:

I typically log on paper and on my phone in real-time. This means that when my hands aren’t sending my exchange, I’m logging as quickly as I can. I honestly don’t think I could keep up with my pace if I added RST to the mix even if just in the electronic logs!

Sometimes my hands are full which makes even basic logging a bit challenging for me!

The POTA and SOTA programs do not import RST info. When your logs are uploaded the RST info is ignored.

I rarely get paper QSLs and when I do, I can always look up the RST in my recordings if I feel it’s important to the other party. For example, I’ve received paper QSLs from DX county hunters (many of those programs require paper QSLs for confirmation) and I will look up the RST from my recordings if needed (it’s actually easy knowing the time stamps from the logs).

Also, since I send an ear-accurate RST to my hunters/chasers, I feel like they’re getting value out of my report in real-time. Many don’t need or want that confirmed on paper weeks later or in other logging systems.

Recording RST to a logging app on my phone–during the activation–simply isn’t easy for me. I struggle just typing and double-checking the callsign I enter. Going back into the app or adif file to enter real RSTs from my paper logs after the fact would be time-consuming and a bit futile since, as I mentioned, POTA and SOTA does not import RST.

In the end, though, you’ll notice that most avid activators don’t record the RST because it simply takes time and it’s actually quite rare that the hunter or chaser needs a true RST even if they follow up with a QSL confirmation. If they need it or ask for it–again–I can probably provide it! Most don’t though, because they receive your report during the exchange.

Should you record RST?

Check out VE6LK’s logs with RST!

If you want to? Heck yeah!

I’ll admit that recording the RST just makes for more complete looking logs. It’s also fun to go back through your logs and give them a once-over to see how a certain antenna might have been performing that day.

Most of the activators I know that record RST only log to paper in the field, then transpose the logs back home and enter RST. That is a much more elegant way to do things if you have the time and it’s important to you.

Since POTA and SOTA are on-the-air activities designed around having fun, do what you feel makes it fun!

How about you? Do you record accurate TX and RX signal reports during your activations? Please comment!

Handheld SOTA DX and Testing K6ARK’s New KH1 Pressure Paddles!

On Tuesday, March 12, 2024, I woke up with SOTA (Summits on the Air) on my mind.

That morning, I plotted to activate a local drive-up summit I’ve basically ignored the past few years.

Peach Knob (W4C/CM-097) is one of the most popular summits in the Asheville area no doubt because it’s so accessible. That said, it’s also a cell phone and water tank site with limited parking. When I first drove up a few years ago, there was a crew working and I would have only been in the way had I opted to activate. Also, to truly be within the activation zone on Peach Knob, there’s really only one small portion of the site where you can set up. Most of the summit is on private land.

I do SOTA primarily for the hikes. I’m not aggressively chasing activation points (ahem…obviously!) so I tend to ignore drive-up sites that are cramped and a bit awkward. Someday, I’m sure I’ll eventually hit Peach Knob just to do it, but that Tuesday? Yeah, I quickly decided I wanted a hike too.

I had a window of about three hours to fit in a SOTA activation. For POTA (Parks on the Air), that’s a generous number–I could easily hit three POTA sites in that amount of time, but SOTA takes more time. Typically there’s a longer drive to a trailhead, then a round-trip hike to figure into the planning as well. I immediately thought of one summit that would fit the bill.

Bearwallow Mountain (W4C/CM-068)

Bearwallow isn’t a long drive from downtown Asheville–maybe 20-25 minutes one-way. The hike to the summit is also fairly short and most enjoyable. The activation zone is the opposite of Peach Knob; it’s massive!

I arrived at the trailhead around 12:30 local and found that there were very few people parked there–-after all, it was a random Tuesday mid-day!

I’d packed my Elecraft KH1 field kit with the intention of doing a fully pedestrian mobile activation. I also had another goal: to test a prototype KH1 pressure paddle Adam (K6ARK) sent me to thoroughly test. I felt there was no better way than to SOTA with it!

Funny, but when operating pedestrian mobile with the KH1, you need so little extra kit. In fact, I could just grab my Pelican M40 case containing the full kit and be ready to go. But I always carry a first aid kit, headlamp, water, and other emergency supplies even if the hike is short and easy. Even if I have no need of those supplies on a short hike, someone else may. Twice, I’ve given other hikers first aid supplies from my pack.

Also, since I planned to film this activation, I needed to carry my camera, mics, and a tripod. I chose one of my favorite day packs: The GoRuck GR1!

My activation video, below, includes a bit of the hike and the contents of my backpack as I set up the KH1.

Gear:

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On The Air

I decided to start this activation on the highest band the KH1 can serve up: 15 meters. After a delayed start (due to phone calls), I began calling CQ SOTA and the contacts started rolling in. It was funny–my first two contacts mirrored a previous Bearwallow activation: Christian (F4WBN) and Michael (N7CCD) in the same order! Within three minutes, I’d logged the four contacts necessary to validate the activation. Continue reading Handheld SOTA DX and Testing K6ARK’s New KH1 Pressure Paddles!

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