Killing time by squeezing in a quick activation on the Blue Ridge Parkway

I love where I live.

When my wife and I made the difficult decision to move back to the US in 2003, we had a wide variety of options of where to live.  There was no doubt in our minds, though, that we would end up settling down somewhere in the Asheville, NC area.

We’re both from western North Carolina and had both–at different times–lived or worked in Asheville. It’s a beautiful area with a good arts scene and loads of outdoor activities.

These days, as I’m involved with both Parks On The Air and Summits On The Air, it’s an especially appealing place to live. We’ve a number of accessible POTA/WWFF entities and loads of summits to activate.

Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)

Any time I drive into Asheville, I pass by the Blue Ridge Parkway.

There are a number of easy parkway access points on the north, east, south and west sides of Asheville. I typically pass by the eastern access point of the BRP on Tunnel Road. Both the Blue Ridge Parkway Headquarters and the Folk Art Center are within spitting distance and both have picnic tables making setup and deployment quite easy for POTA/WWFF ops!

On Monday, November 29th, 2021, I found that I had a good 30-45 minutes to kill before heading home after running errands in town. My car was empty, as I was hoping our collision shop would ask me to finally bring the Subaru in for repair. They were waiting for one critical component to arrive.

Side note: Bears in cars

As I mentioned in a previous post, in late October, a bear opened all four doors of our car and proceeded to check inside for food. He wasn’t exactly “surgical” in his investigation and was likely frustrated when he realized there was no food to be found inside (never store food in your car in bear country).

He scratched up and punctured a lot of interior panels and ripped out many of the seals around the doors and windows. The damage would have been primarily superficial had he/she decided not to dig into the headliner.

Turns out, there are a lot of wires in the headliner of a modern car, and the bear made a mess of ours. The end result? We couldn’t manually lock, then unlock our car without setting off an alarm (which would only stop after we put the key in the ignition and started the car). There were a number of other minor electrical issues due to the wiring being broken.

Fortunately, the tail lights still worked and the car was drivable which is why the collision shop didn’t want me to bring in the car until they had all of the parts in.

They told me to hang around town that Monday until they received their afternoon parts shipment and wait for their call before heading home. My buddy, Vlado (N3CZ), was on standby to give me a lift if I dropped off the car.

BRP Quickie Activation

I had about 30-45 minutes to burn, so a quickie activation at the Blue Ridge Parkway was in order!

I drove to the Folk Art Center and set up in the picnic are in the middle of their main parking lot. It was a chilly, breezy Monday afternoon, so I basically had my choice of tables.

All I had in my pack was the Elecraft KX2 and AX1 antenna, so that’s what I deployed.

Gear:

On The Air

Fortunately, I had the OSMO Action Camera in my GoRuck pack, so I made a video of the entire activation. I didn’t include the set up (as I’ve done this in so many videos before) but I did take a bit of time to answer a reader question regarding sending/receiving signal reports during field activations.

I hopped on the air with one goal: to get the 10 contacts needed for a valid park activation.

That’s all.

If I didn’t achieve that goal, I would still be happy having played a bit of radio, but I hoped propagation would at least be kind enough to deliver 10 contacts with 5 watts and this wee antenna!

I started calling CQ and started working stations in pretty short order. First to answer my call was N4RKK, then N4PIK, followed by a Park-To-Park with good old K4NYM! I then worked KD8IE, K3IMC, W3GZS, WB1LLY, K3KML, K4ISW, and WA2FBN which gave me my 10 contacts.

Woo hoo! It only took 16 minutes to work my ten stations. I was very pleased. Thank you chasers!

QSO Map

Here’s what my 5 watts into a tabletop telescoping whip antenna yielded that fine day:

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life activation video. Again, I do take a bit of time in the beginning of this video to answer a subscriber question regarding signal reports specifically during park and summit activations:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Thank you!

I hope you enjoyed this field report.

If there’s one take-away from this report, it would be that it’s okay for a field activations to be modest in scope. If the Blue Ridge Parkway were a super rare entity, I would have a bit more guilt about only working 10 contacts knowing that there could be a large group of chasers who would desperately like to add it to their unique park list. But the BRP is one of the most activated parks in the POTA and WWFF systems because it’s a large multi-state, accessible park.

Understand that it’s perfectly fine to hit the field and hop on the air with humble goals. A park activation doesn’t need to be planned out like Field Day; all you need is a little time, a radio, an antenna, and a bit of patience if propagation is poor.

I occasionally get messages from readers and can tell that they’re hesitant to hit the field until they have the perfect field gear and the perfect weather on the perfect day. I encourage these folks to use what they already have to hit the field and to hop on the air anyway.

Keep your goals modest and be forgiving if things don’t work out as you had hoped. When things do work out? Do a happy dance. Even if people are looking!

In the end, I believe field activations are more about the skills we develop rather than the tools we purchase and use.

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.

Thank you!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

5 thoughts on “Killing time by squeezing in a quick activation on the Blue Ridge Parkway”

  1. That is beautiful country where you are at. About 20 years ago I visited a friend in Winston Salem in February or March and decided that I would travel the Blueridge Parkway for a little while just to check out the views. I came down a small hill and around a bend and saw a sign that read, “Watch for sudden icing conditions”.

    There was already a car coming towards us that was trying to navigate a patch of ice about 40 yards long. They had removed towels and clothing from the trunk of their car and they were putting those items under their car tires for traction inching forward about 1 foot at a time. Turning around was not an option for us as we had already navigated several bad hills that were snow covered.

    It took as nearly two hours to get over that patch of ice with three of us working at it. There was a steep hill to our left dropping off with no guard rail and to the right there was a steep hill sloping up immediately at the edge of the road with large rock protruding out of the hillside. It was my worst winter driving experience ever and we get some pretty bad snow storms here in Pennsylvania.

    1. Oh wow, Curt! That sounds crazy!

      So you wouldn’t experience that today. The BRP is gated at nearly every access point. They have no equipment for clearing the parkway of snow and ice, so they close off any vulnerable sections now well in advance of any inclement weather. Many of the higher altitude sections are closed all winter, in fact.

      Glad you made it out of that winter experience unscathed! That sounds like a scary situation.

      Cheers,
      Thomas

  2. Great post Tom.

    I’ve been to both of those locations many times and they are an almost yearly destination for us. I usually get on the BRP at the Hendersonville Rd. (25) entrance and I love to head north towards the Tanbark Ridge Overlook.

    All my life I have wanted to live in Asheville but it isn’t the same Asheville I remember from my childhood anymore. Still hoping to move to the area next year.

  3. I will be at Anclote Park in mid/west Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico this Saturday, Dec 18. (30m NW Tampa, FL)

    I will be taking my AX1 to test against 40m OCFD and two 20m HamSticks as dipole. I have the AX1 40m extension also. Will be on 20 and 40m, 7.035 and 14.035 +/-. 9AM-1PM EST (1400-1800 UTC).

    Will have 3 rigs, IC705, FT817 & uSDX HF xcvr.

    I saw Steve use the AX1 and ordered one and this will be my first work with it and also first work with vertical antenna.

    73, ron, n9ee

  4. Well Thomas, with your inspiration, I headed out to a local lake (k-4986), here in VA. And with my QCX-mini did a quick activation. Went well, thanks.

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