Many thanks to Vince (VE6LK) who shares the following guest post and field report from Alberta, Canada:
#POTAThon1111 – report from the field
by Vince (VE6LK)
My goal is to activate all of the parks I can that have never been activated.
I’m blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the world and see these parks up close. One wall in my shack has a map of all the un-activated parks and routes within a day’s drive of me, and most are already planned with routes. There will be more #POTAThons!
[Click all images to enlarge.]
#POTAThon is what I call it when I plan on getting to more than one park in a day. Usually these things aren’t thought of for weeks in advance, they are more like a “tomorrow morning” kind of thing. Opportunistic, if you will.
But first, a note about the day I chose…
November 11 is called different things in different countries, but what we share in common is we honour our Veterans and we give thanks for the freedoms they fought for. So today I paused to give thanks and think of the lives they gave so that I have the freedoms I do today. I would bundle up that giving of thanks into an urgently needed day away from the office.
And with that, #POTAThon1111 was born.
#POTAThon is what I tag these activities on my Twitter feed and the month and day denote when it happened. By definition a #POTAThon is more than one activation in a day; I’m simple like that. #POTAThon1111 is the third such event.
The first was #POTAThon0930, an ambitious day attempting 8 sites with two operators and most of them in backcountry outside of cellular range. You can see the video from that day when you click on this link. We didn’t get to all 8 but we had a hoot trying.
Just before I departed for #POTAThon0930, Thomas Witherspoon K4SWL (you know him, right?) said words to me I’ll never forget: “Vince, just work CW at a speed where you are comfortable, people will adjust. If you work the sacred language, I will find you.”
With those words of encouragement, I gave it a go. On that day I worked CW and a bit of SSB, but since then it’s been all CW for POTA. While the propagation wasn’t with Thomas and I on 0930, we did connect some weeks later – KX3 to KX3 no less.
You need to understand that I think I’m terrible at CW, but I also need to let you in on a secret: there’s no such thing as a Bad CW Contact. I explain that concept in more detail on YouTube, and the essence is: just do it and roll with it, warts and all. People adjust their ways and usually their speed. Go out and have fun trying.
And that brings me to #POTAThon1111. By day I’m a mild-mannered Project Manager in IT, so the plan is the thing. It guides me but it does not rule me. It helps me to understand what time I need to leave home and when I’ll return. It helps me plan travel times, which Google Maps tells me when I ask it how far to go from point A to B and so on. I’ll email it to you on request if you think it helps you too.
The plan was to visit four parks, operating from the comfort of my Ford F-350 at 50W. For HF, the truck is well equipped with a Yaesu ATAS-120A including a lengthened whip, and a Yaesu FT-857D radio. An external speaker sits on the “B” pillar behind my left ear, and the radios are all on a grounded metal plate behind the rear seat and out of sight.
Near the driver’s seat are the remote faceplates for it and the FT-8900 that also is in the truck. Lastly, a cable for a CW key is also at the faceplates making it easy to plug in. The F-350 is equipped with dual batteries as it is a diesel.
For spotting I scheduled activations on POTA.app for each stop as this would help the Reverse Beacon Network to spot me. I would also use cellular, when available, to create the first spot for the activation. A bonus of using RBN is that you see your relative signal strength in their reporting. I was pleasantly shocked when my 10W signal late in the day would exceed the SNR with my 50W signal – that’s performance data that is otherwise hard to get.
Lake McGregor Provincial Recreation Area (VE-3100) was an hour from home. Weather was sunny and cold, about 9F/-12.8C. It climbed to a balmy 25F/-4C by day’s end. It was also 5 minutes off the highway driving on unplowed roads with 6” of snow.
I arrived on schedule, posted my spot and a few minutes later was inundated with callers. The sun was gleaming off of the snow crystals, a true sign it’s brrrrr level cold out. A damp overnight with below freezing temperatures creates hoarfrost which turns the landscape into a winter wonderland with each blade of grass and tree branch covered in the spiky frost.
Between VE-3100 and VE-3137 the way the clock struck 11:00AM, and I stopped and got out of my truck to reflect on Remembrance (Veteran’s) Day. It gave me the gift of time away from work and the least I could do was to think of those that sacrificed for our freedoms, simple things like the day I was having.
Forty five minutes after departure, I arrived at Little Bow Reservoir PRA (VE-3137). It was another 5 minutes off the road and driving through the snow slowly, as skidding off-road would be painfully expensive and time-consuming. I hadn’t planned on this slowdown, but fortunately I allowed some “contingency” time in my plan so I crossed my fingers and it all worked out in the end. The detailed PRA maps showed me where I needed to be where the road crossed into the PRA zone itself as it’s not good enough to be immediately adjacent to the property, you and all of your gear must be on it.
To plan for this problem (and others) I bring hardcopies of several things, per site: Printout of the park’s page from POTA.app, a copy of the map from Google Maps, and a map from the authority that owns/manages the park showing exact boundaries.
Those three pages are stapled together, placed in a file folder in the order I’ll drive on that day. In our ever-connected world, many parts of where I live have poor to no cell service so I plan on being without access to data on trips like this. Pre-planning is an essential step as a result. The plan for this trip took just a few hours, would have been less had I travelled in any of the areas prior to now.
10 minutes after departure I arrived at Travers Reservoir PRA (VE-3117) however I would discover there was no place I could be on the property and in my truck. As I was not equipped to go hiking in the snow I abandoned that stop.
Another 25 minutes later and I was at my to-be final stop, the Little Bow Provincial Park (VE-1183). It looks like a lovely campground and I’ll have to return in warmer weather for some glamping. Glamping = glamourous camping, some people call it RVing.
Anyways, as I saw at many other locations, here I also saw ice fishing in progress. Alberta had an early cold snap in November and I was quite surprised to see ice fishing shacks up already.
I paused to upload photos and catch up on the computer before I departed. As I drove away I reflected, wistfully, that I wouldn’t get the 4 activations I set out to do. Opportunistically, I aimed the truck -with a fuel stop on the way- for Chain Lakes Provincial Park (VE-1168). It was about a half hour detour from my planned route and I had the time before sunset. It was a stunning drive across the Porcupine Hills and directly facing the Canadian Rockies.
This stop would be different. A bonus stop, and with weather now at a balmy 25F, I decided to try out my new-to-me Elecraft KX3 along with a plain old 60’ wire at 10’ sloping to 3’ on the tailgate and activate outside running 10W; a stark contrast to the 50W the rest of the day. I underestimated how cold I would get, operating in gloves the entire time standing outside, but it all worked out well enough. I operated using the 3000mAh AA NIMH batteries I put inside the KX3 “just to see how it would work” – the answer is pretty well mind you in a short amount of operating time.
How and why I acquired the KX3 is another story for another time but needless to say I’m pretty pleased with it overall.
With the sun setting over the Canadian Rockies and my numbers for the last stop achieved, it was time to head home. That, and my feet were pretty cold.
By the time I arrived home, I had made 60 contacts at 4 stops, all on 20m CW. Along the way I hunted a half-dozen parks operating CW mobile. The FT-857 has a mode whereby you can paddle key using the up and down buttons on the hand mic.
Before leaving home I enjoyed a hearty breakfast, then during the day I consumed 3 Diet Cokes, some water, an Eat-More bar, a bagel with tomato, and the truck drank 60 liters of fuel covering almost 400km in 8 hours. I took some wonderful photos of hoarfrost, re-discovered just how large and isolated parts of Southern Alberta are, and had a front-row seat to the Canadian Rockies to wrap up the day.
It’s an understatement to say it was a great day.
73 and dit dit.
Vince d’Eon (VE6LK/AI7LK) is an Accredited Examiner in Canada and the US, a co-host of the Ham Radio Workbench Podcast, and enjoys creating solder smoke in his spare time. You can find Vince on his website, YouTube, Twitter, and Mastodon.