by Vince (VE6LK/AI7LK)
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In December of 2023, I found myself with a surplus of vacation from my employers, and my Brother who’s move-in date to his new home got suddenly moved forward to just before Christmas. I was able to get time off work and make an epic road trip with POTA stops along the way to both allow me to have some radio fun and to give my body a stretching break. My trip would take me from my home in Alberta, westward through British Columbia, southward into Idaho, Washington, Oregon and I even made it as far as Northern California to see the Pacific before turning around and heading back home.
Along the way, I activated at 14 stops which totaled 21 parks in all after factoring in the 2-fer, 4-fer and 5-fer stops! This was a total of 301 actual QSOs netting 508 after the x-fers were computed in. It was a mix of CW and voice with an average of 21 contacts per stop.
There were many highlights of the trip, and naturally spending time with my brother and his wife were at the top of the list–despite the work of moving into a house–followed by the simply spectacular scenery along the route and the route planning itself. While this trip was decided upon on a Thursday evening and I was on the road the following Monday, I still found about 10 hours to research points of interest along my routes and look for POTA entities that had either not been activated yet or were CW ATNO, having only had a Phone or Digital activation previously. For the most part, these were the stops I targeted as my waypoints.
Driving along the Columbia River Gorge on I-84 approaching Rooster Rock State Park felt like driving along the base of the Grand Canyon, given the 1000′ height of the cliffs beside me. Rooster Rock State Park (K-2850), is notable for two reasons. 1 – it’s a 5-fer activation point – my first 5-fer stop ever doing POTA, and 2 – it’s windy as heck as you can see in this short video I took for Charlie W7RTA who told me, via Discord, it would blow [what’s left of my hair] off my head.
Certainly Rooster Rock was a highlight given it’s the only 5-fer activation I’ve ever done. It was activated two hours after a 4-fer at Willow Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area (K-10646). I only learned about the multiples after chatting with folks on the POTA Discord server.
It was a short drive from Rooster Rock SP to the home of KJ6VU in Oregon City, Oregon. While I’ve worked with George on the Ham Radio Workbench Podcast for nearly three years, I’d never met him in person until this trip. It was such a treat to spend time with him. George is the creator of the Packtenna that so many of us love to use. As luck would have it, the KJ6VU repeater was due for a replacement and scheduled for the next morning, and I was able to put my skills in racking (installing) repeaters to good use. After we finished the repeater I departed and did some performance testing while southbound on I-5 to test its range.
Along the way I got to have a coffee break with Nick Smith NT3S who I had met via Discord. Nick can be found activating parks and going overlanding on weekends. Thanks Nick for the time to have a break with you!
Over the next several days I spent time in Grants Pass Oregon assisting my brother and his wife to get moved in. Grants Pass even has a Harbor Freight Tools and I was able to get some shopping done! So as it turns out I wouldn’t be slugging boxes every day and there was a bit of a break during my visit to go out and play radio. I know the POTA program is especially popular in the United States and I’d heard that every entity has been activated at least once, which is very different from here in Canada where many parks are untouched. In my research and thanks to the parks added in the autumn of 2023, there are some in the system that had never been activated. On one Saturday afternoon I was able to visit one of these parks -Cathedral Hills Trail System- and work 72 contacts in under an hour on SSB.
On the following Tuesday, I headed out from Grants Pass to head to California if only to tick off the box on POTA’s website saying I’d activated there. I had no idea that Highway 199 would be so scenic. I activated six entities on this day.
At the end of Highway 199 is Tolowa Dunes State Park (K-1202). The photo at the top of this article is on the dunes and at the coast of the Pacific Ocean near Crescent City CA. Yes, I walked along the surf despite the threatening weather. It also allowed me the luxury to park within the dunes themselves to do my activation with a spectacular view.
Nearby to Tolowa Beach is Redwood National Park (K-0058) which encompasses Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park (K-1164). Giant California Redwood trees live here. It’s calm and you get a true sense of how small humans are on the face of the planet at a place like this.
The following day, I had to start my trip home. This leg would take me through Bend Oregon where I got to hang out with Tim (N7KOM) who has a great YouTube channel and sells a few things on Etsy that may be of interest to the QRP buyer. If you land up buying the trap kit, tell him you want the “Ham Smarter” version of the PCB board and he’ll know I sent ya. Tim and I work together with Kyle AA0Z on his New CW Operators Roundtable YouTube series. For me this was, again, a chance to meet someone in person that I’ve worked with only virtually up until now.
While I activated at K-4390, Newberry Crater Volcanic National Monument, Tim brought along his W8BH Morse Tutor kit that I sell and did some assembly work while we sat at a picnic table and we chatted while I did my CW activation. You can see his video of it below and then you’ll understand the “Ham Smarter” comment above!
This was the only stop where I didn’t treat my activation as a drive-up. However when I arrived, the picnic tables were pretty soggy and covered in pine needles making me regret this choice. The snowbrush from my truck suddenly became essential POTA gear to not only clear off a table and squeegee off the water, but to also support one end of my wire antenna as you can see here in this short video.
As Tim and I chatted about many things (thanks to him for a video of the event), he showed me his MTR-3B kit he uses for SOTA as you can see in the photo below. Even with the battery it weighs in under one pound, not including his 15′ carbon fibre mast. I’m sure Thomas would love to have a write-up on this kit and I’ll update this article when it has been posted.
With my major items checked off on my “must do while on this epic journey” list, I started driving northwards towards home. Naturally there were still parks left to activate along the way. As Thursday concluded, I’d activated two more parks. Columbia Plateau State Park Trail State Trail (K-10407) I visited just outside of Spokane WA, and late in the day I stopped at Round Lake State Park (K-2247) in Idaho before checking into my nearby hotel. I was the only visitor in the park at this time and the fog had just cleared long enough for me to snap the wonderful photo as seen below. It was so quiet I could hear my heart beating, and my ever-present tinnitus of course. When I have a rough day, I pull up this photo to relive the moment and my stress melts away. This is one of the many reasons why we POTA.
My last activation as AI7LK would be near the neighborhood of Good Grief Idaho. It’s two miles south of the Canadian border and it’s in a corner of Kootenai National Forest (K-4505) which spans both Idaho and Montana. I used SOTAmāt to spot myself for this one as my cell had no service. Sidebar: You’ve heard of SOTAmāt, right? If not this short video will get you going with this fantastic off-grid spotting service.
The border crossing was uneventful and the agent at the gate wasn’t as amused as I that I’d brought back home about $75 in Trader Joe’s chocolates for stocking stuffers. Sadly they don’t ship so I’ll have to make the trek again, or conscript a friend into shipping me some of the ones we enjoyed in our household.
Crossing the border into Canada at Kingsgate British Columbia, I returned to using my VE6LK callsign and reprogrammed the keyer in my FT-857D before stopping at a few parks in B.C. to activate – – and un-seat my buddy VE6TD as the top activator. He and I are slightly competitive <grin>. Naturally the further north I went the colder it got as well so I switched jackets for the rest of the trip home.
The weather for this trip was primarily foggy and cold with only a couple of days of rain. For me this is a huge contrast to living in Alberta which is known for it’s blue skies in winter. I was relieved to see blue skies once I turned onto Alberta’s Cowboy Trail aka Highway 22. Many of my POTA activations are along Highway 22 as you’ve seen in my prior writings. I would arrive at home about two hours later.
How I prepared for this epic last-minute trip
On a trip like this I plan for the unexpected. I had a sleeping bag and pillow and other essentials for being stranded in winter weather. There was spare food and water on board. I had a jerry can of fuel in case I could not locate a fuel station along the way. I carried 4 forms of payment as not all Canadian banking or credit cards work in the USA.
I carried a full set of tools, yes they got used but fortunately not on my 19 year old truck.
Each evening in the hotel room I’d pre-plan my trip for the next day as my waypoints were somewhat fluid. I made printouts of maps for the planned stops and made lots of notes on them. I looked for primary and alternate points of entry to each stop and made written notations on the same maps.
List of gear used for these activations:
- Elecraft KX3
- CIR-45D paddle key
- Yaesu FT-857D
- Yaesu ATAS-120A
- 2005 Ford F350
- American Morse Products DCP Paddle key
- Begali Traveler Light
- Seadream headphone cable for the key
- Zoleo Satellite Communicator
- 25′ RG-174 feedline with inline FT140-43 toroid
- Tufteln 41’/17′ random wire antenna
- Chameleon wire winders
- Leadsound 3W portable speaker
- 7.1m carbon fibre “crappie” fishing rod
- One ounce fishing weights
- Apple Macbook Air
Gear brought along but not used
- Elecraft AX-1 kit
- Tripod adapter
- Assorted RF adapters and a dummy load!
- Amphenol 5′ RG-174 feedline
- Amphenol 25′ RG-174 feedline
I’ve not done such a road trip in the USA as this in a very long time. Y’all have some simply beautiful parks to visit and I hope to be able to visit again very soon.
73, 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.