by Vince (VE6LK)
As always there are lots of links within the article. Click one! Click them all! Learn all the things! 🙂
For those of us that work from home there are good and not-so-good things about it. One of the not-so-good things is that I’m not getting out somewhere every day like I used to, thus I embrace corporate travel as it represents a mini-escape from the day-to-day activities that would normally happen. It also gives me an opportunity to operate in the field and away from the comfort of sites nearby my home.
In late September I was in the Edmonton Alberta area for work and, as always, I brought along a set of gear to play radio. Where I’d normally drive up and park my F-350 within the boundaries of the park and operate from the cab of the truck, this time I was in a rental vehicle so I had to be well-equipped for the unknowns. I also didn’t pre-plan my stops like I normally would, I just wanted to roll up and do my best to make it work.
These would all be CW activations at QRP power and are part of my 200 CW activation contacts per month personal goal to improve my CW skills. (Spoiler alert: I hit the goal while writing this article!) See below for my kit list that made this possible.
Not really pre-planning an activation is a stark contrast to how I normally roll as I usually pore over maps and satellite views on multiple websites to visualize where the park entrance is and where I’ll set myself and what I may encounter for surroundings when I get there. I know exactly where I’m going and just about down to the parking space. I build a set of kit up to support that/those activation/s.
With the lovely autumn weather we were experiencing in Alberta, my plan was to activate after work opportunistically around Edmonton – something I’d not yet done despite many trips to the area – and set up and operate right around 0000z. This time is after my workday, so a nice mental break from the day’s activities before kicking back for the evening. I think to my self that I’ll roll into a site nearest to where I was working arriving just before midnight UTC (1800h local) and get set up and start calling once the clock ticked over into a new day. From there I would then head to the hotel (or home) and grab a bite to eat and close my day off on a high note.
Day One: Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park (VE-1185)
Sometimes directions aren’t so clear, am I right?
Despite some navigational challenges, I found the park! Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park (VE-1185) is located within the city of St. Albert and has multiple entrances. My Garmin RV780 GPS lists many parks – handy for a POTA activator – but it wanted to, strangely, lead me away from the signed entrance I could see ahead of me. I abandoned the technology at this point and did some good old dead-reckoning and turned left into the park.
It’s Sunday evening and the lot is darn near full with families enjoying the warm weather along with a few photographers doing photoshoots in the evening sun. I found a spot to park and begin scouting out the area. My small tub of kit is not conducive to carrying long distances given it’s shape and weight, so I operated near the vehicle and not by the trailside. The lot is surrounded by large landscaping boulders and a couple are flat-topped – one of these made a perfect desk of sorts!
Job one was to fasten my carbon fibre fishing pole to a nearby parking sign. I set it in the ground with the fishing rod holder and figured out a way with a carabiner and small length of string to loosely affix it to the top of the signpost – this served to support it in an upright position. Naturally I was already beginning to gather onlookers …
The signpost was both too close and too far away from lot-side boulders to deploy a Spark Plug Gear 66′ EFHW so out came the other wire antenna I brought along from Tufteln which is a 41’/17′ random wire. Yes, I chose the antenna based on boulder placement–sometimes one must do these things.
Anyways, one end got clipped to the top of the mast with an S-hook and up went the mast. The rock was about 50′ away so that made the feedpoint ~9′ from my operating position. I attached the counterpoise wire but now needed to place it where nobody would trip on it… so it was brought to the rock I used as a desk and I sat the tub on top of the wire to both tension the antenna and then take the remaining 10′ and stretch it out on the ground behind me. This configured the antenna as a sloper.
After this activity, I attracted a small crowd and one person who was quite interested told me about their latent interest in CB radio – all while I was plugging in my KX3 and such. He talked for about 20 minutes while I hunted a few people and explained what I was doing, and my plans to have a completed the activation before 0000z were nixed just that easily, but in the spirit of giving good information about the hobby. I directed him to my website and the page on how to get your license.
My onlooker left at about 2355z so I began to get set up to be spotted. Thanks to good cell service (at all three sites in this story) fortunately this was simple. I opened up my notebook – something I don’t normally do as I electronically log – and began to fill out a log for hunters. I found the handwriting to be strangely enjoyable and began thinking to myself that perhaps K4SWL was right about this all along! I may have to do this more often.
The activation itself was simple and fun with a number of familiar hunters dropping by, and I packed up to head for the hotel once the sun set behind the trees and I began to get cold.
Day Two: Fort Augustus and Fort Edmonton National Historic Site (VE-6084)
The only thing I had to go on to find this POTA site were some scant directions on the Parks Canada website but they didn’t quite align to the roads’ names in either my GPS or maps on my phone. At least the Parks website showed a photo of a stone marker denoting the spot. So I had to dead reckon this one to find it.
I was now well outside any city and in farm country. I was about 2 miles off the highway and found the point without too much trouble as it happened. I arrived at the site – a monument to Fort Augustus and Fort Saskatchewan – and see a trail marker for the Trans-Canada Trail a.k.a. The Great Trail of Canada a.k.a. VE-5082. This would be a two-fer!
At the roadside, the site is a stone cairn monument surrounded by wooden fencing denoting the trailhead. It’s then that I reminded myself of the POTA rule that “you and all your gear must be within the boundaries of the park” and began taking stock of how I’d set up.
There weren’t any landscaping rocks nor flat surfaces of any sort where I could place my radio, and the shape I’m in – round – doesn’t easily lend itself to sitting on the ground for extended periods of time. Fortunately I’d borrowed a lawn chair so that made this activation comfortable.
Once again the carbon fibre fishing pole to the rescue along with the Tufteln 41’/17′ random wire.
The fishing rod was held in the ground with the rod holder and I used the shock cord from the Tufteln winder along with a small dollar store carabiner to help secure the mast to the corner fence post rail. There were two points of support for the mast just like the day before.
Repeat things that work well for you is the lesson here.
The wire ran over top of the wayfinding sign at the opposite end of the fenced enclosure and the far end of the wire was gently looped around a tree branch. This time the elevation was 20′ down to about 6′ at the far end.
I placed the gear near the chair and thought about how I was going to put it all near me, for I’d never done an “all the gear in my lap” activation before. It was simple, as it turned out, thanks to a magnetic base on my key. The battery between my knees, the KX3 on my lap and sitting on top of my notebook and the key on the armrest of the chair – perfect!
The sun was on my face and I had a wonderful view of the river valley and farmlands while I activated. I stayed longer this time, but once again packed up when the sun dipped down and the temperature dropped.
Day Three: J.J. Collett Natural Area (VE-3049)
On my trip home I wanted to squeeze in one more activation.
Between Edmonton and my home in Okotoks there are few entities that are near the highway, so I selected J. J. Collett NA as I’d been there before and knew what I was getting into. I needed to activate quickly and move on as the weather was threatening a bit of rain.
The fencing that surrounds the parking lot is post and rail construction, so it was really easy to affix the fishing pole at the corner.
I was able to set the pole into the ground without need for the fishing rod holder thanks to the rough landscape, and anchored it into place with the shock cord and carabiner wrapped around the post and rail once again. I knew I’d be using the shock cord because my mind was already made up to deploy the 41’/17′ Tufteln again as I’d had good luck with it thus far and set-up time is under 5 minutes.
What was different for me at this set-up was how I configured the antenna: while normally I’d set it up as a sloper or flat-top, this time I opted for inverted vee style as it’s what I had to work with.
I have one ounce fishing weights on the ends of the wires and they came in handy at this location as I placed the weights gently on the top rail of the fence to secure the wire in place. I find that a small weight on the end of the light gauge wire will also help it to stay in place if you simply place it on an object like the top rail of a wooden fence. This works well enough if it’s not a windy day.
I tuned around a bit to figure out what frequency was open for my use. This site has moderate cell service and I’m experimenting with different techniques as always.
I loaded up the antenna for 14069, then tuned to 14074 and plugged in the hand mic. Astute readers will note this would be normal configuration for FT8, a mode I rarely use. In the context of POTA it is also used for SOTAmat spotting. If you haven’t seen SOTAmat here’s a great video about it by the author. I sent my packet of data for spotting then quickly returned to my chosen frequency of 14067 and began calling.
I didn’t wait long at all before I had a lineup of hunters! This time I was operating while standing at the tailgate of the truck as I’d already returned the loaned chair to its rightful owner. Note to self: add a folding chair to the kit. But then at about QSO number 11, the wind suddenly took a turn and the temperature dropped so I hastily packed up. I drove through rain just a few minutes after departure.
List of gear used for these activations:
- Elecraft KX3
- Talentcell LiFePO4 6Ah cell
- CIR-45D paddle key
- Seadream headphone cable for the key
- A plain paper notebook
- Staedler drafting pencil
- Tufteln 41’/17′ random wire antenna
- Amphenol 25′ RG-174 feedline
- Chameleon wire winders
- Leadsound 3W portable speaker
- Aluminium guy rope tensioner
- 7.1m carbon fibre “crappie” fishing rod
- Fishing rod holder
- One ounce fishing weights
- Random assorted small and medium carabiners and S hooks
Gear brought along but not used
- Elecraft AX-1 kit
- Tripod adapter
- Assorted RF adapters and a dummy load!
- Amphenol 5′ RG-174 feedline
- 35′ RG-174 feedline with inline FT140-43 toroid
- Spark Plug Gear 50W transformer and wire winder (for my EFHW)
- Pack of 3 tent pegs plus guy rope ring (for freestanding of the fishing rod mast)
- Digital voice recorder
- Jimisha rubber anti-slip mats to put under the CW key
You don’t need an exhaustive list of gear to do what I did. A radio, battery, tuner, feedline, antenna and key along with something to log are the minimums. The rest of my kit makes my set-up easier to deal with on the fly.
I hope that something from my kitlist inspires you to go out and hunt or activate as well as get out of the house too.
After all, it’s as simple as One .. Two .. Three!
72 and dit dit,
First introduced to the magic of radio by a family member in 1969, Vince has been active in the hobby since 2002. He is an Accredited examiner in Canada and the USA, operates on almost all of the modes, and is continually working on making his CW proficiency suck less. He participates in public service events around Western Canada and is active on the air while glamping, mobile, at home or doing a POTA activation. You can hear him on the Ham Radio Workbench podcast, follow him on Twitter @VE6LK, and view the projects and articles on his website.