POTA Field Report: Dodging the rain at Lake James State Park

On Thursday, October 7, 2021, I was driving back to the QTH and had a hankering to do an activation. There was only one problem…

Rain.

Lots of rain…

As I was driving on Interstate 40 west-bound, I passed through bands of rain producing torrential downpours; the kind that brings interstate traffic to a crawl. Weather-wise, this is not typically when I would contemplate a park activation. I did a quick mental inventory of what I had in the car. Turns out I had the Icom IC-705 and the Elecraft KX2.

I also had the Elecraft AX1 portable antenna. Having used the KX2/AX1 pairing under picnic shelters with success, it was a no-brainer what I’d use at Lake James.

Most North Carolina state parks have covered picnic shelters that are first-come, first-serve or can be reserved (at no small expense) for group gatherings. There’s a really nice large picnic shelter at the Catawba River access of Lake James State Park–in fact, I took shelter there earlier this year during an activation.

No matter how bad the rain, I knew I could play radio under the shelter with my KX2/AX1 pair.

Plan B

In all of the times I’ve activated Lake James State Park, I can’t think of a single time I’ve seen this particular picnic shelter in use.

That is, until the day I needed it…

I pulled up to the picnic shelter to find a young couple who had completely taken it over.  They, no doubt, were camping at Lake James campground and got caught in the rain during check-out. They took all of their wet gear to the picnic shelter, strung up a number of clotheslines, and tried to dry everything.  I didn’t bother asking if I could join them under the shelter–basically everything from their tent, their rain fly, ground cloth, and all of their wet clothes were hanging from lines, rafters,  and railing. The picnic shelter had become their “personal space” and, knowing full well what it’s like packing up camp in torrential rain, I was happy for them that a space like this was even an option.

Plus, it had stopped raining for a bit.

I looked on my weather radar app and could see that we were temporarily between rain bands.

I decided to throw caution to the wind.

Quick deployment

Shack-in-a-box transceivers like the KX2 and portable antennas like the AX1, can be deployed quickly and don’t require shooting lines into wet trees (which always ends up getting me soaked).  🙂

Knowing heavy rain could hit without warning, I set up my waterproof GoRuck GR1 backpack on the table next to the transceiver and mentally had a plan of how to stash it quickly if needed.

Gear:

I must have been in too much of a hurry, though, as I set up my station.  I placed the counterpoise on the ground and hooked it up to the KX2. I then walked around the table and somehow got my foot tangled in the counterpoise (in my defense, having a black jacket, the wire disappears on the ground).  I ended up yanking the KX2 with AX1 attached and fully-extended off the table and onto the wet packed gravel ground.

Yikes!

I checked the radio and antenna, though, and both seemed to be perfectly fine. I could see a few scratches along the top edge of the KX2’s poly display protector…but hey! That’s what it’s there for!

So many people have told me over the years that they don’t like the KX2 or KX3 because they don’t seem “rugged” enough for field use. I beg to differ as I’ve dropped both of these radios numerous times over the years and have yet to hurt them. Even if I did, replacement knobs, screen protectors–basically everything–is in-stock, affordable, and easily replaced via Elecraft customer service.  People making these claims have probably never laid hands on a KX series radio. They’re not waterproof, but they’re pretty darn durable.

On the air

Knowing the rain clock was ticking, I hoped that I might knock out this activation in short order and all on one band (40 meters) so I wouldn’t have to take time to change counterpoises.

Forty meters did not disappoint. Neither did the AX1 which seems to have some serious mojo.

In the space of thirty minutes, I logged a total of 15 contacts.

QSO Map

Here’s the QSO map showing what the KX2 and AX1 yielded with 5 watts:

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation. Because I was pressed for time, I didn’t include the antenna deployment (nor the yanking the KX2 off of the table!):

Click here to view on YouTube.

Thank you

Thank you for reading this report and joining me on this soggy activation. I’m actually really pleased with how this all played out.

Activations like this remind me that it’s always good to know a few spots to play radio even if rain is in the forecast.

When you visit a park for the first time, drive through the entire site, especially picnic and campground areas that are open to the public (some parks limit campgrounds to overnight campers only). You might find public sheltered areas that could serve you well in times like this. Some sites have large covered areas, others may have individual picnic sites under a small roof. Many shelters, in fact, have roofs that are high enough you could even string up a short wire antenna inside (woo hoo! Just gave myself an idea for a future activation!).

Again, a special thanks to those of you who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free–I really appreciate the support.

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

6 thoughts on “POTA Field Report: Dodging the rain at Lake James State Park”

  1. Good article. I have been there, going to a park with shelters hoping one would be open. I once went to a nice local park on the Gulf of Mexico to find a large group of volunteers to clean the park using the shelters, all 3. At another time at a park with fishing pier a fishing event and one of the shelters was used for the admin of the event, but there were other shelters open although they were further away from where we liked.

    I mainly do only parks with either shelters or in the open picnic tables although I have used my small table setup on the back of my Jeep and out in the open.

  2. One comment about the antenna and any loose wire for it.

    I would never have my cable for the antenna connected to the rig where it could be hooked by someone and drag the rig off. I also would never mount my antenna like a vertical directly to the rig except maybe a rubber duck for VHF/UHF as is done with most HTs. Learned this in the Army with gear and field phones. Secure the wire to something so if it is snagged that something will catch and hold it in place. I’ve seen too many times people walking around ending up tripping on wires. This can also be a health hazard, as someone one can trip on it and fall. I try to make sure all is safe.

    If find at shelters there are wooden rafters so I can run the coax that is going to my dipole mounted on tripod or pole allowing me to get the coax up high in the air and coming down to the picnic table. I then secure the coax to the table.

  3. One other comment. I like being in a shelter and it rains. Sure nothing that big of a rain, but is pleasant feeling. Only issue is lightning, no operation when that happens. The smell of a good rain in an open park is very pleasant to be around.

    So when going to a park and I see rain it is by no means a reason to not do the event, more of a reason to do it.

    But there are limits, sounds like you were at this point.

  4. I recently used Larry’s paddle in a drizzle along with my TX-500. The paddle was on my flight deck exposed, and worked fine. When I got home all I did was blow it out with some canned air. I’m going to try to get out tomorrow.

    1. It’s 31′ long for the 40 meter band. The one for 20M is much shorter (I don’t have it with me to check!). 🙂

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