Many thanks to Teri (KO4WFP) for the following guest post:
A Rock Leads to an Unexpected POTA Activation
by Teri (KO4WFP)
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but a rock can change the trajectory of one’s week.
Monday, while driving to the barn, a rock landed on my windshield leaving a chip in the glass. The soonest and closest appointment was in Bluffton, South Carolina. But having to work the appointment into my week, nixed my planned POTA activation for Wednesday at Wormsloe K-3725. However, I thought to check for any parks near Bluffton and yes, Victoria Bluff Heritage Preserve, K-9197, was within 15 minutes of my appointment. I could fit in an early activation before the appointment and put the AX1 to use for the first time. (Score!)
The drive Tuesday morning from Savannah, Georgia to Bluffton, South Carolina was scenic – lush, green foliage along the road interspersed with salt marsh and freshwater views.
The Victoria Bluff Heritage Preserve is 977 acres and has four miles of easy hiking trails. The warning on the SC Trails website about protective clothing & insect repellent for the large number of ticks that flourish in the preserve’s forest encouraged me to set-up in the parking lot. There were no picnic tables (my usual set-up) present so I planned on operating out of my car, a first for me.
However, how was I to mount the AX1 while sitting in my car since I had no tripod? I was still puzzling over this the morning of the activation when I remembered the Joby Gorillapod stand I purchased last year. Would the tripod mount for the AX1 work with it? Yes! It did.
I set the Gorillapod on the roof and, despite calm wind conditions, bungeed it to the Crosstrek’s crossbars for additional stability.
As I would start on 40 meters, I retrieved the correct counterpoise, attached one end to the tripod mount and the other into a tree. A local ham advised me, upon learning I purchased the AX1, to add alligator clips to the end of both counterpoises. (Thanks Paul!)
Funny story – During the activation, I heard a car pull into the parking lot. Horrors – my counterpoise was strung across the parking lot in the path of the advancing car! I threw off my headphones, bolted out of the car, and shouted at the driver to stop which thankfully he did. I removed the counterpoise from the tree, let him pass, and reattached it. Whew! Note to self – next time remember to bring my fluorescent flagging tape.
Once the antenna and equipment were set up, I climbed into the rear cargo area of the car. The arrangement wasn’t the most comfortable, but considering I had never done an activation like this before, it would work. (Good thing I am still flexible at age 51.) I engaged the KX2’s ATU and the SWR lowered from 4.8 to 1.
One aspect I enjoy about POTA is you never know what will happen and what you’ll learn from those events. I made several discoveries during this activation. The parking lot was immediately adjacent to a busy road. (You never know what a new park will present in the way of challenges.) Area noise is usually not a problem during my activations but the road noise was a significant distraction. I decided to replace my KOSS SB-40 headphones with my Sony noise-cancelling headphones in my backpack for future activations.
I also realized I need more practice with the iambic paddle. Most of my time on the air is spent as a Straight Key Century Club member, lately pursuing their marathon award. The club requires the use of mechanical keys. I have a CW Morse paddle I’ve made into a sideswiper or cootie and have been using it since the end of October 2022. I really love using my cootie but the key is too heavy and big for the Nova Scotia trip.
Hence, when gifted the Palm Mini Paddle, I made it my POTA key. But the only time I use it is when I activate a park which is about once every two or three weeks. This doesn’t afford enough usage to send as well as I want and, transitioning between the timing of the cootie and the timing of the paddle, is sometimes rough, especially in less than ideal conditions which POTA conditions often are. So, I have resolved to spend time in my shack practicing with the paddle on the air between activations.
For this activation I made twelve contacts – seven on 40 meters in 30 minutes and on 20 meters, five contacts in 50 minutes. I also found that switching the AX1 from 40 to 20 meters took little time – about 10 minutes to remove the 40 meter extender and switch out the counterpoise. HamAlert picked up my signal so it know the antenna was working and, closer to home, the signal reports were decent. I do think the challenging band conditions of the day worked against me and I wonder if I had used my 2040 trap dipole how different those signal reports might have been.
All in all, I am pleased with my second KX2 and first AX1 activation. I still have more to learn before my Nova Scotia trip later this summer. But each of these steps builds confidence and contributes to the knowledge base I need for the trip. Stay tuned…