Many thanks to Vince (VE6LK) who shares the following POTA field report:
#POTAThon1231 – The RAC Portable Operating Challenge
by Vince (VE6LK)
It’s the final day of December 2022 and I find myself, a non-hiking non-climbing city kid, trudging around in the snow on a nature preserve not far from my home. I’m in shape -round- and it’s not helping me much. I’m not really dressed for this but I’m not far from the warmth of my truck. My goal is to do an activation and move on, for I’m in the middle of the final day this month of a set of #POTAThons and I still have one more park to get to.
#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. Please feel free to adopt the hashtag on social media as it is free from all royalties and encumbrances.
But, before I tell you the story of how I happened to be trudging through the snow, let me tell you that someone said something to me that set me off on the journey that had me trudging through snow on that day and hefting a wire into a tree.
I do public service events throughout the year, and in December I travelled from my home in Alberta one province westwards to Kelowna B.C. to the Big White Winter Rally. RallySport is fun to get involved with as a ham radio operator, and is especially trying -for all the right reasons, as you’ll see in this clip from 2015– in Net Control where we run logistics for the event. You’ll be able to read that story in the March-April edition of The Canadian Amateur magazine.
Anyway, I’m to the point in my life where a long one day drive is no longer enjoyable, thus along the way to BWWR, I planned to activate parks and take two days to make the trip each way. A week off to play radio sounds like a great vacation to me at any time! Thus, the plan was struck to do this and have fun. This means that multiple #POTAThons would be required!
Along the way I get a message from another RallySport participant and POTA/SOTA Activator, Mike VE7KPZ, where he said to me “you should enter your public service points into the RAC (Radio Amateurs of Canada) Portable Operating Challenge and get 100 points per day”, and my interest was piqued.
After the trip back from Kelowna, I entered in my scores on the RAC leaderboard and I couldn’t believe my eyes, for at that moment, I was in second place. Dear reader, I’m slightly competitive and 2nd place simply wouldn’t do. In earnest I began to understand how the challenge worked and how to build my scores up. I was at 6700 points or so and wanted to be at 100,000 or better.
My planning showed I needed to hit as many unique POTA, SOTA, IOTA and ARLHS Lighthouses as I could to activate in the month. Unique provinces and grid squares will also count. With a good head start thanks to the Kelowna road trip, I mapped out all of my days off in December and the planning was underway. Given there are no lighthouses within easy reach, and I don’t SOTA on my own, each day would need to be a multi-park POTA route. I would need every spare day, achieving a budget of at least 25 contacts per stop to overtake the person in the lead position which would leave me with a wide margin to spare, or so I believed.
Now the person in first place activates a lot, and I will only attempt this craziness once. He gets 4 points for each contact, plus multipliers, as he runs a solar/battery set-up. He has less driving as all of the parks he visits are within an hour of home. He has it easier than me, I think, given there aren’t a whack of POTA sites near me and I don’t (yet) own a solar panel for my mobile set-up. With all that in mind I thought to myself “I’ll give it my best and that’ll have to do.”
I mostly operated from the comfort of the cab in my truck, with some warm enough days where the sun was out and the temperature was north of freezing. On those warmer days I set up on the tailgate of the truck, usually drawing curious glances from onlookers. “Y’all talk to aliens on that thang?” I heard more than once… it’s part of the fun.
So, with that back story, now you understand the slight craziness and why I was set up in the snow on the final day of December. After my shift at The Candy Store™, I activated a 2-fer then planned two single parks near my home but not drive-on capable. Having worked Red Summit RF’s NJ7V a few minutes earlier while driving, I arrived at VE-3149, Threepoint Creek Natural Area. My timing for arrival was a little off as the sun was behind a row of trees to my south and the temperature was only 39F. Still, I didn’t feel a need to keep my jacket zipped up, and this is pretty typical weather for this area at this time of year.
I unloaded my pull-cart, my lawn chair and my portable mast and supplies and began the journey into the park and less than 50’ from where my truck was parked. Lashing the mast to the fence corner post and pushing it up to its full 30’ height, I hauled up the feedpoint to my Spark Plug Gear EFHW 66’ wire. This is one of a few different antennas I use.
Then to the far end of the antenna, I clipped on my Leatherman C33 multitool as a throwing weight (not heavy enough, by the way) and got the other end into the tree after several attempts. I use bright pink construction line so that it’s easy to find when I miss my throw.
Setting up the KX3 Go-Kit was a breeze, and I was on the air. While most of my activations were SSB in order to gain as many QSOs as possible, some I did in CW because I wanted to continue improving my skills in this area. My first caller was W7JET, a member of the Red Summit RF’s All Portable Discussion Zone podcast team. It rattled me when someone I knew was my first caller, so much so I had to ask him to send a 599 signal twice <grin>
After 15 minutes and 5 contacts at 10W sitting in the 39F shade, I was cold and damp, and called it good enough. It took me 20 minutes to set up which worked up a sweat, which in turn made me cold when I sat still. I’ll know better for next time. I moved on to the next park and did one 2m simplex contact to gain the multiplier, and then I went home to unwind. The last activation was anticlimactic compared to all of the others.
At the end of the day and once the dust had settled, by the numbers I did:
- 3,114 km of driving, resulting in
- 1300 activator QSOs in SSB, CW and Digital,
- in 32 unique POTA entities,
- over 14 days,
- in 9 grid squares,
- in 2 provinces,
- requiring one oil change on my F350. I shudder to think of the fuel cost.
I’m writing this article about a week before the December competition closes and all participants have submitted their logs. Regardless whether or not I land up in first, I’m happy I did the challenge as I learned things along the way.
Lessons I learned along the way include looking for opportunities for 2-fer and 3-fer locations (thanks Mike, VE6FXL) and taking lots of pictures for social media and to help remind me where I’d been. Oh, and take a friend to do 2-fer and 3-fer multi-operator activations too as those will bring out the crowds wanting those multiples as hunters. Who knows, along the way you and your buddy may find an out-of-the-way lunch stop that’s simply stunning.
It’s important to take time to appreciate your surroundings whenever you travel.
I’ve created two spreadsheet tools that you can download from my website to help you if you ever wish to pursue this madness. Please do not approach me for fuel sponsorship as my budget is slightly overdrawn in that area <grin>
73, 72 and dit dit.