Many thanks to Teri (KO4WFP) for the following guest post:
Was the Third Time the Charm at Cape Breton Highlands National Park (VE-0013)?
by Teri (KO4WFP)
If you read my previous articles, you know my family and I went to Nova Scotia for a week. You also know that my first two attempts at activating parks in Canada did not go well. At the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site (VE-4841), I was sidelined by weather and site issues. At the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site (VE-4826), extremely poor band conditions and site issues prevented a successful activation. But those who know me well, also know I do not give up easily.
The morning of Friday, June 30th, my family and I headed to Cape Breton Highlands National Park (VE-0013) which occupies 950 kilometers of Cape Breton Island. One-third of the Cabot Trail, a world-famous scenic highway, runs through the park. Talk about amazing scenery! The highway runs along a shoreline reminiscent of the rugged California coast, then moves upward and inland on top of the highlands, a wild landscape with scrubby firs and moose crossing signs, and then descends back toward the coastline with steep ravines and valleys off the side of the road.
We arrived at the Cheticamp park entrance a little before 11 AM. Looking around the information center parking lot, I spied a tree and nearby picnic table perfect for my activation. This arrangement would allow me to watch for people who might walk toward my antennas and provide the use of a table to which I was more accustomed.
I immediately set about picking out a branch (located in the upper part of the photo below) and pulled out my arborist line and weight. Though I know I am not, I am beginning to feel like a pro putting antennas up in trees. I snagged the branch for which I was aiming on my first try. Hooyah!
One thing I have not learned yet is to accurately judge how much distance I need between my tree and my station. My antenna had too much slack so I hiked it up a bit higher in the tree and moved the picnic table about 5 feet.
Now how to elevate the feed-end and the counterpoise? The feed-end just made it to the picnic table. The shorter bungee cord I brought was the perfect length to fit around one of the boards of the table. Now I had something to which I could attach the S carabiner on the feed-end.
As for the counterpoise, I put my backpack on the ground and attached the counterpoise to a piece of the backpack with a S-carabiner and then attached three lengths of flagging tape to the counterpoise. There was only one section of the antenna low enough someone might walk into it and to that I attached a piece of flagging tape.
I finished setting up my equipment on the table, warmed up for a minute, took a deep breath, and got on the air around 11:30. Given the conditions forecast for the bands I viewed earlier in the morning, I opted to start with 17 meters. That band worked for me the previous day so maybe today would be no different.
As soon as I called CQ, I heard two friends – Jon KC1FUU and Glenn W4YES. A smile spread over my face and my confidence surged. Jon had the stronger signal and quickly I put him in my log. Unfortunately, my 5 watts could be heard in Alabama but not strongly enough for a QSO.
This site in the park is ringed with mountains with a single opening toward the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. I found out later quite a few ops answered my CQ but I did not hear them. I suspect being down in a bowl contributed to that difficulty.
Gradually, one by one, someone would make it through and I would log another QSO including Caryn KD2GUT, my code buddy in New York. Then, in the middle of my activation, a park warden drove up. At first I thought I might be in trouble. There are prominent signs on the picnic tables telling visitors to not damage the trees in the park though I didn’t see how my antenna and arbor line presented any problem for the tree I was using.
Actually, Warden Jonathan Gallant was just curious as to what I was doing. I told him about ham radio and Parks on the Air. He found it amazing I was sending morse code with my antenna. We chatted for about 10 minutes. By this time, my husband walked over and took a picture of the two of us. I assured Warden Gallant I would send him a copy of my article for QRPer.com when it was posted, resumed pursuing my activation, and logged a few more QSOs.
And then, my KX2 died!
I hadn’t paid attention to how much usage it had received or thought to charge it the past few days. My heart sank. Did I have enough confirmed QSOs for a valid activation? I counted them up – 10! However, I know that just because you have ten doesn’t mean you actually have ten because one could be a busted call sign. (I always try to log twelve or thirteen QSOs before calling QRT.)
About half of the QSOs were with ops already in my log so I knew their call signs were valid. As I double-checked the others on QRZ, I came across one in MN that didn’t add up. Ugh! However, today I remembered to use my digital recorder for just such an occasion. I found the QSO on the device, listened to it, and realized what I heard as an “X” was actually a “Q”. I typed the correct call sign into QRZ and guess what – Eureka! Joe KF0DQU is indeed in MN, the state he gave me in the exchange.
Success! I had done it! A valid activation in Nova Scotia, despite difficult band conditions, my rig dying, and a call sign I didn’t hear correctly. I spoke on the phone with my friends – Glenn W4YES, Jon KC1FUU, and Caryn KD2GUT – who knew of my first two failed activations and we celebrated! Unbelievable! You would have thought I won an Olympic medal. Given all I had been through the past few days, it felt like it!
It just goes to show, you never know what POTA is going to give you. Those unsuccessful POTA activations are learning opportunities. One needs to remain positive and remember, as a friend said, “the next successful activation is in the bag – it just hasn’t happened YET”. When victory does come, it is amazing.
This is why some of us pursue this endeavor – that rush you feel when you actually surmount all the challenges thrown at you and have a successful activation. Amazing what 5 watts and a wire can do!