You might recall that I’ve been testing a new backpack that I plan to use primarily for SOTA activations. It’s the Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC.
I’ve now taken it on a few activations, but the very first outing was on Monday, December 7, 2021.
That afternoon, my daughters attended an afternoon art class that was only four miles from our QTH as the crow flies, but took 45+ minutes to drive. Gotta love the mountains!
I had no complaints whatsoever about the drive, though, because it was within five minutes of the Zebulon Vance Historic Birthplace; one of my favorite local POTA spots!
Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)
After dropping off the girls, I drove to Vance and was happy to see that no one was occupying their one picnic shelter. Even though the Vance site is relatively spacious and they’ve numerous trees along the periphery of the property, it’s a historic/archaeological site and as a rule of thumb I only set up at picnic areas in parks like these.
It was a breezy day and temps were hovering around 44F/7C. These are ideal conditions in my world.
I grabbed the Discovery TX-500 for this activation. I had been using it quite a bit in the shack, but realized I hadn’t taken it to the field in a few weeks. I decided to pair it with the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical antenna since I had already loaded the Lite in my pack, using the pack’s built-in antenna port.
While I knew this activation wouldn’t include any hiking, it did give me an opportunity to pack-out my new backpack and see how it would accommodate a typical field set-up.
- lab599 Discovery TX-500
- Elecraft T1 ATU
- Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite
- Muji A6 Notepad and Koh-I-Noor .9 mm Mechanical Pencil (affiliate link)
- CW Morse “Pocket Paddle” (Single Lever Version)
- Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC
- Bioenno 3 aH LiFePo Battery (Model BLF-1203AB)
- Tom Bihn Large Travel Tray
- Rite In The Rain Weatherproof Cover/Pouch (affiliate link)
- Camera: OSMO Action Camera with Joby tripod (affiliate links)
Setup was incredibly easy and fast–this one of the reasons I love the Chameleon verticals so much. Simply attach the matching unit, whip, and counterpoise to the stainless steel spike, push the spike into the ground, extend the whip and deploy the counterpoise roughly 25′. Done.
While one might give up a bit of efficiency using a non-resonant vertical, you gain more on-the-air time because setup is so simple and speedy. In addition, band changes are effortless and quick. I prefer the MPAS Lite over my Wolf River Coils TIA for this reason. Both are great antennas, but when I’m in a hurry, I dislike tweaking the coil on the WRC antenna during band changes. (This reminds me that it’s time to take the WRC to the field again!)
On the air
I knew in advance that this would be a very short activation. My daughters were only at their meeting for an hour or so and my wife and I wanted to fit in a little stroll around the Vance property as well.
When in a hurry, I always start on 40 meters. It tends to be the most productive band for park activations in North Carolina–no doubt because there are a large number of POTA hunters within my 40 meter footprint.
I started calling CQ and within 13 minutes had validated the activation with 10 contacts.
I stayed on the air an additional 7 minutes and worked 5 more stations.
Many thanks to KE8ONI for that Park-To-Park!
It’s fascinating looking at contacts on a map. In this case, it looks like the pattern strongly favored a path to the north and northeast. About half of the contacts were in the DC to NYC corridor.
I recorded a real-time, real-life video of my entire activation. As with all of my videos, this one is unscripted and unedited.
I’ll be the first to admit that when I review my videos before uploading, there are often “wince-worthy” moments.
In this case, I noticed how I kept repeating a keying error over and over!
It’s a great reminder that CW is very much an operation in muscle memory. I remember now that as I kept repeating the error, it was as if my fist had a mind of its own. In truth, I think a lot may have to do with the fact that I switch out radios so often. There are often negligible differences in electronic keyer timing between radios and I believe that can trip up my fist.
I always liken it to driving manual transmission cars. Even though I’ve driven them my whole life, when I get into a new manual transmission car it often takes a while for my muscle memory to adapt to the different clutch depth and stick throw. Those first few minutes in a new vehicle, my shifting is less fluid, I might ride the clutch a bit when stopped on a hill, and I could even grind the gears a bit (cringe!).
We all have days when our keying isn’t stellar. Forgive yourself when this happens.
Keep in mind: you don’t have to set a full day aside to do an activation. If you have a hankering to play radio in the field, perform a rapid activation. Don’t even worry about logging the 10 contacts needed to validate a park activation. Just do what you can in the amount of time you have! I believe my rapid activations actually help hone my deployment and packing skills.
Hmmm…there might be another article in this. Stay tuned!
I’d like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been 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.
Cheers & 73,