Field Report: Beautiful weather and three parks on the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Last week, my family hopped in the car and took an eight hour drive to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

We’ve had such a busy 2021 that we decided to take a full week prior to Christmas and fit in some proper vacation and family time.

We love going to the coast off-season to avoid big crowds. Turns out, we chose well, too: it’s as is we have the whole of the Outer Banks to ourselves. Other than a couple days with some “invigorating” weather (which we actually enjoy) it’s been absolutely spectacular.

The view from our cottage

While radio plays an important role in any travels, my family time always takes priority. The good thing about activating parks is that radio and family time often go very well together!

On Friday, December 17, 2021, my daughter Geneva (K4TLI) and I decided to spend the day together while my wife and other daughter worked on an art project at our rental cottage. We had a few loose plans, but mainly wanted to fit in a nice beach walk, possibly discover some new scenic spots, and enjoy a take-out lunch together.

She very much liked the idea of fitting in a bit of POTA, so we hit the field with two sites in mind.

The plan

My Subaru is still in the body shop getting repaired after a bear decided to open the doors and make himself at home, so we have a Toyota Camry rental car on this trip. It’s been a great vehicle for sure, but its trunk space is limited and we packed quite a lot of food knowing local restaurants would be closed this time of year.

We all limited our luggage and I limited the amount of radios and gear I took. I could write an entire article about my holiday radio and antenna selection process (seriously, I put too much thought into it) but in a nutshell I limited myself to two radios and two antennas.

Here’s what I chose for this trip:

Radios:

  • Elecraft KX2 – Knowing space was so limited, the KX2 was always going to be one of the selections. Since it sports an internal battery and ATU, it’s the most compact and versatile transceiver I own.
  • Icom IC-705 – I had a particular experiment in mind (see second activation below) and also planned to do some shortwave and mediumwave listening. The IC-705 is a superb broadcast receiver and I love the built-in recording capabilities. Plus, the IC-705 can be charged with pretty much any MicroUSB source thus eliminating the need for a separate power supply.

Antennas:

  • Chameleon MPAS Lite – Vertical antennas work beautifully on the coast and since the MPAS Lite stainless spike makes this a fully-self-supporting antenna, it was really a no-brainer. The MPAS Lite collapsible 17′ whip is also more compact than my MPAS 2.0. Plus. I can actually reconfigure the MPAS Lite to be a random wire antenna if needed; so in a sense, it’s a few different antennas in one.
  • Elecraft AX1 – I never travel without the AX1 these days. It’s so compact, you hardly know it’s there and can be set up anywhere. Plus, I wanted to pair the AX1 with my IC-705 (again, see second activation below).

My other self-imposed requirement was that both radios and antenna systems could easy fit in/on my new Spec-Ops Brand SOTA Pack.

Not only did they fit, but there was even a little room to spare.

Buxton Woods State Reserve (K-3852) and Buxton Woods State Game Land (K-6889)

Our first stop was a two-fer activation!

After comparing two different maps, I determined a spot where Buxton Woods State Reserve (K-3852) and Buxton Woods State Game Land (K-6889) overlapped; not difficult as most of the area is an overlap. Fortunately, it wasn’t too deep into the park.

Living in the mountains where we do, AWD or 4x4s are almost a necessity. The Camry, while otherwise a superb car for traveling, is not only front-wheel drive but has very little ground clearance. This is a fact that became all too evident the moment I pulled into the road leading into the game lands and wildlife management area.

After turning off of Highway 12, the road immediately changed from asphalt to very soft, deep sand. There were ruts in the road from four-wheel drive vehicles and they were so deep that I knew if I drove in those ruts, the car would bottom out.

I’ll admit here that my choice to continue into the site was questionable at best, but it changed from asphalt to sand so quickly, I really had no choice. The last thing I wanted to do was get stuck in the middle of the narrow single lane road!

As I drove (slip-sliding) into the site, I noted a warning sign about the need of all-wheel drive vehicles. Fortunately, my chosen activation site was not terribly deep into the game land and I found the pull-out area I expected. The ground at the pull-out was firm and was also spacious enough for me to turn the car around.

Among the trees, the wind was calm and thus there were no shortage of mosquitoes.

We decided to complete the activation in the comfort of the car. I deployed the Chameleon MPAS Lite and fed the feedline through the trunk and fold-down back seat. I used my kneeboard (thanks again, Carolanne!) and the Elecraft KX2.  Turned out to be a very comfortable activation! Luxurious by my normal standards!

Gear:

Since we were operating in the car and I also felt a little pressed for time, I didn’t make a video of this activation. I simply hopped on the air and started calling CQ POTA!

As I said before, this KX2 kneeboard is the bee’s knees!

In a total of 23 minutes, I worked 18 stations. Here are my logs:

Before packing up, I really wanted to put my buddy K8RAT in the logs, so I hopped on 30 meters and met him there, topping off my count at 19 stations logged!

We quickly packed up the Camry and I carefully turned it around in the pull-out area. I walked down the road and plotted my escape path. I determined that if I straddled the opposite side of the road, I could likely get through the soft sandy area and make it back to Highway 12.

I won’t lie: it was dodgy there for a few seconds as the back of the Camry attempted to pull the rest of the car into those deep ruts in the road, but we made it to hard surface. I made up my mind then that would be my only activation of those two parks on this particular trip!

The moral of this story is never assume you can get into a game land or wildlife access area without a vehicle with ample ground clearance and good traction. I wasn’t expecting this soft sandy road after turning into it so I really had no choice but to keep going and not lose momentum. I should have slowly turned into the access road and immediately stopped the car to check the road.

If I had my Subaru or my truck this would have all been a non-event. Quite fun, even! 🙂

Cape Hatteras National Seashore (K-0682)

The Camry obviously appreciating a proper solid parking surface!

After a nice long walk on the beach and an amazing lunch, Geneva and I stopped off at a Cape Hatteras National Seashore day use parking area on the Pamlico Sound side of Highway 12.

It was a perfect spot to play radio as there were two picnic tables set up within a few meters of the salty waters of the Pamlico Sound. Here’s a map I marked up:

If you’re ever in the vicinity of Avon or Cape Hatteras, NC, I highly recommend this spot (here are the Google Map coordinates).

IC-705 Experiment!

Since the winds were relatively calm and I had access to a picnic table, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to pair my Icom IC-705 with the Elecraft AX1 antenna!

I’ve paired these two before (click here to read the report), but this time I didn’t want to mount the AX1 on a tripod and use an ATU; I wanted to mount the AX1 on the side of the IC-705.

There’s only one catch, though: the AX1 needs an antenna tuner to get a good impedance match on 20 meters. The IC-705 (unlike the Elecraft KX2 and KX3) has no internal ATU.

What to do?

Linas to the rescue!

A couple months ago, Linas (LY2H) posted a video on his (excellent) YouTube channel showing how one could directly pair the AX1 antenna with the IC-705–or any other radio–by building and attaching a small capacity hat to the whip.

It’s such a simple and practical solution.  Thank you so much, Linas!

The day before leaving on our trip, I build the capacity hat–which took all of a few minutes–and trimmed it to resonance. You can build this cap hat with any wire, but you definitely want it to be light enough to easily attach to the whip and pliable enough you can pack it. I chose to use some solid conductor connector wire.

I set up the radio and tested the SWR. For some reason, with the capacity hat at the top of the whip antenna, I couldn’t get a good match like I did back home. I’m no antenna expert (not by a long shot) but I assume the dramatic difference in ground conductivity between my mountain home and this seaside location played a big part.

I then tried moving the capacity hat to points lower on the whip. I found that as I lowered the cap hat, the SWR also lowered. I found a sweet spot in the middle where the SWR across the band was around 1.5:1 (back at the QTH I had a 1:1).

A 1.5:1 match was perfectly fine, though, so I was as pleased as punch!

Since I was using a new antenna combo at a new-to-me coastal location, and I had no idea what propagation would be like, I wasn’t certain if I’d be able to log the 10 contacts necessary for a valid activation on the 20 meter band. In general, 40 meters is much more productive for me when activating parks and 20 meters more productive on a summit.

I started calling CQ POTA and…wow! As my daughters used to say, “Easy-Peasy, Lemon-Squeezy!

I had a valid activation within 10 minutes.

What was interesting was the number of Tennessee stations I worked. I would have thought them too close for 20 meters.

You can view my real-time, real life activation video below.

QSO Map

Here’s what an IC-705 and the cap-hatted AX1 can do with 5 watts on the shore of the Pamlico Sound:

Activation Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life activation video. Note that it’s pretty short because there’s a chunk of it missing. During the activation, my camera’s battery depleted. I suspect when I thought I was recharging it the day before, the power cord wasn’t fully plugged in. I was too busy working stations to stop and grab the USB battery bank from the car, so I simply tacked on a short iPhone video after going QRT:

Click here to view on YouTube.

I must say that I’m very pleased with how effectively the AX1 paired directly with the IC-705 using a capacity hat.

Again, many thanks to Linus (LY2H) for the idea! I highly recommend subscribing to Linus’ YouTube channel if you haven’t already.

Thank you!

I hope you enjoyed this wordy field report.

Although they are quite time-consuming, I enjoy writing these reports because they feel like travelogs. That’s especially true now as we’re on vacation.

I’d like to send 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.

Patreon and coffee fund supporters actually helped fund this family trip to the Outer Banks.  It’s one way my family directly benefits from the energy I put into QRPer and my videos. It’s a pure labor of love, so it’s truly a win-win for all involved. 🙂

Thank you so much!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

2 thoughts on “Field Report: Beautiful weather and three parks on the Outer Banks of North Carolina”

  1. Thanks for a beautiful, nearly-winter-from-the-beach activation video. We love those “quiet” off-season days at the beach! It was interesting and informative to see your experiment with the cap hat and that it can be positioned along the antenna to “tune” the SWR! I assume will work the same on the new AX-2?
    73
    W4LTC

  2. Glad you had a good time. I heard you in there, but I believe you were going over the top of me. We are just too close together. I’ll keep trying 🙂

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