VE6LK’s #POTAThon1231: The RAC Portable Operating Challenge

Many thanks to Vince (VE6LK) who shares the following POTA field report:

Canmore Nordic Centre VE-1167, Alberta

#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.

VE-3477, British Columbia

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.

Revelstoke National Park VE-0061, British Columbia

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.

In Net Control, set up and ready to run the race. 6 people will be in here. (Click to enlarge)

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!

VE-3662 Kekuli Bay, British Columbia

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.

VE-4312 Yard Creek, British Columbia

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.

Photos from VE-0005, Banff Park lookout

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.

VE6TD and VE6LK in Banff Alberta at VE-4773

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.”

The middle of nowhere, aka VE-3137, Alberta

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.

Mast at corner fence post

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.

Far end of the antenna

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>

Fully set up at VE-3149

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.

VE-5932 Lundbreck Falls, Alberta

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.

At sunrise, one of our club’s repeater sites in Longview Alberta, on the way to VE-5932

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.


16 thoughts on “VE6LK’s #POTAThon1231: The RAC Portable Operating Challenge”

  1. “ I’m in shape -round- and it’s not helping me much” – I know that feeling too. I’ve lost weight but moving from flat Florida to the North Carolina mountains is taking some getting used to. Nothing is flat here and I feel out of shape. I also share your feelings about day long drives – they take more out of me than they did when I was younger.

    Great write up Vince. I really enjoyed reading this. I have one question; what is that item just above the KX3 on the right side of it?

    Please follow up with a comment telling us your final points standing.


    1. Thank you.
      The object is one of two things depending on which photo, so I’ll respond with both.
      The wee blue item with coloured buttons is a Pocke-Tech keyer.
      The grey and green item is a Zoleo Satellite Communicator.

      1. I was referring to the picture of the radio sitting on your tailgate. It is a small screen with a row of buttons on the right side of the screen.

        The item appears to be sitting on the top of the KX3. I was guessing maybe a panadapter?

        Great story and some really great pictures in your write up.

    2. This comment is being left just hours after the original article was posted. I wrote the article on January 1st and had no idea what the standings were.

      The competition was close enough that, 3 or 4 QSOs either way for either myself or the gentleman that landed up in 2nd … that our positions would have been reversed, it was that close.

      Around mid-day I learned that I achieved what I set out to do and have a lovely certificate confirming a first place win for the month of December, and a spot within the top ten for the year of 2022.

      I hoped for this, but did not expect it.

      1. Congrats, Vince! Happy you had a great time reaching that goal. I have you on hamalert, and was happy to see you popping up on my phone every day. In the end, my rx situation denied me the first few days, and after that I was too sick to drag myself to the radio. Walking petri dishes otherwise known as kids seemed to have bring every virus on earth home in December! Keep having fun!

  2. Vince

    Great write up and beautiful pictures. As I have jokingly mentioned to you, POTA is an addiction. (More than Diet Coke, eh)

    73 de Greg VE6EO

  3. What a great story Vince. I used to think POTA was just a fun way to get outside and play radio, now I find myself constantly checking the leaderboard for parks I have activated. Maybe POTA has evolved into the world’s most interesting way to do contesting!

    I’m a 100% CW guy for POTA and that seems to limit QSO count compared to SSB ops. I just prefer the silent (I wear earbuds), unobtrusiveness of CW. Maybe POTA could be persuaded to have separate leaderboards for each mode.

    1. Hi John,

      “I just prefer the silent, unobtrusiveness of CW.”

      That’s a perfect way to describe my feelings about CW as well. Personally speaking, I put the microphone down about 12 yrs ago and have never looked back.

    2. Thanks John, and I’m hoping that as my CW speed improves so will my contact rates 🙂
      While the RAC Portable Challenge isn’t only about QSO count, it helped me as each of my contacts was worth 2 points and the gent I was pursuing was doing 4 points per- thus SSB was desired.

      I’ve set a goal for 2023 to do at least 200 CW activation QSOs per month for POTA.

  4. Great job and thanks for the tip off. A new competitor has entered the ring on the RAC portable challenge. Now I need to go and get those multipliers…

    73 de VE7QH

  5. I’m going to guess it’s a memory keyer. (It’s got colorful buttons – the giveaway:-)
    Great article Vince!

    Pete WK8S

  6. Very nice article!
    Great to see pictures of your setup.
    I’m always looking for new ways to go portable.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  7. Great field report Vince! Brrrr looks too cold for me! I’ve been doing radio inside my Jeep. The heater, and comfortable seating makes it fun.

    Typically I use my KX2 a short coax, and a 35.5’ random wire, launched up about 30’ in a tree. Deployment is fast too… My ‘shotgun’ passenger-side work surface, is ideal for your kind of conditions. Brrr!

    I hope to hear you on the air Vince!
    72! de W7UDT (dit dit)

  8. Nice article Vince, thanks for sharing. Enjoyed the pics ….beautiful. You’re in a beautiful part of Canada to operate portable.

    Been too long since I’ve been “out west”. I remember one trip we did on motorcycles. Lots of stops on the way out from Ontario and all through the mountains ……. made some fun contacts on my FT-817.

    That trip really stands out for me. We made it out to visit my brother and sister in law in Kelowna and then on the way back to Ontario , we stayed overnight in downtown Banff. We stayed at the Ptarmigan Inn on the main street. When we were out for dinner, someone broke into our room and stole our 35mm camera and my wallet. Two years later the mgr from the Inn phoned us to report they had my wallet in their lost and found box! Never did see that Nikon again though…..?

  9. Vince, I think this report is absolutely brilliant!

    I love how you injected a little competition in your December while doing all of your other travels, POTA, and volunteering. Most excellent!

    Your KX3 field kit is the bee’s knees!


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