Business Travel & POTA: It’s as simple as One … Two … Three!

by Vince (VE6LK)

As always there are lots of links within the article. Click one! Click them all! Learn all the things! šŸ™‚

The backstory

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.Ā  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!

Pink string winder is the end of the counterpoise and brightly coloured so people don’t walk into the wire

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.

Listen in here on this short video as I show my setup from my seated point of view and at the end of the activation.

Day Three:Ā  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.

Look closely along the fence rail to see the weight, and the wire running through a crack in the wood for stability (click image to enlarge)

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:

Gear brought along but not used


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.

8 thoughts on “Business Travel & POTA: It’s as simple as One … Two … Three!”

  1. Hi Vince,
    Great post! I too am a “road warrior” for work, covering most of the northeastern part of the US as my territory. I have taken advantage of POTA-on-the-go during my work roadtrips, whenever my schedule (and customer schedules) allow. Usually it involves choosing to leave the house an hour or two earlier than needed in order to hit a park, or trading off lunch-on-the-road for a POTA activation, or stopping by a park on the trip home. It’s usually the latter. I’ve used a mix of wires in a tree, a pole suspended wire as you did, or the MP1 vertical and even sometimes the Elecraft AX1 on a homemade window mount of the car. This bit of QRP CW POTA-therapy is often just what the Dr ordered after a day on the road. Well done!

    1. Hi Alan,
      Indeed you are more of a road warrior than I and I model my kit after things I’ve seen you bring along. I too leave earlier from home or arrive home a little later on days like this. It also breaks up the drive which is good for your backside šŸ˜‰

    1. Thanks Matt,
      I like to think that watching the early hat trick greats in the NHL like Phil Esposito, Marcel Dionne and Bobby Hull helped me to get to where I’m at. šŸ˜€

  2. Very interesting and informative! I particularly like the fishing weight idea as an easy way to secure and stabilize the end of a light antenna wire.
    Regarding your fishing pole, I’ve had a 20 foot Black Widow pole for over 20 years, and I used it on my very first POTA activation. I’ve “moved on” to Spiderbeam masts, but I think I need to get the fishing pole out again as it is light and compact and easy to deploy. Thanks for the inspiration.
    Finally, FB on the Staedtler 2 mm lead holder. I have a couple of those along with an assortment of leads in different grades. I think they’re fantastic!

    1. Thanks William, I like lightweight wire antennas. They don’t take up much space and can handle far more than QRP power. It keeps my kit light enough to carry around for simple activations like these. I’ve had those lead holders forever too – they last like iron.

  3. Vince, I’m continually amazed at the number of stations you work QRP with antennas that are deployed pretty low (relatively speaking) to the ground. I need to be doing much more of this myself.

    I love how you also relinquished your UTC day to someone asking questions. I’ve done the same thing myself. šŸ™‚ A fwellow at Lake James once talked with me so long that it puished me into the next UTC day.

    Good on you for being such a brilliant amateur radio ambassador!

    Thanks so much for the field report too. We love them!


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