It was Sunday, December 24th around 7:30 AM and my brother Joseph, my dog Daisy, and I were on our way to Florida. The purpose of the trip was to knock out nine or ten parks toward my goal of 60 new-to-me park activations in 2024. The trip was also designed to test my camping skills and adjust my equipment and set-up for future POTA camping trips. The first park on the itinerary was Olustee Battlefield Park (K-3642).
The drive to Olustee was straight forward: I-95 south to Jacksonville, then I-295 to I-10. We stopped at the Florida Welcome Center and snapped a quick picture despite the rain, then bundled ourselves back into the car and on our way.
Olustee Battlefield Park commemorates the site of Florida’s largest Civil War battle. Florida was important to the Confederacy in the Civil War because of its material contributions. In fact, Florida was a vital contributor of beef and salt. The battle of Olustee was fought to repel a Union attempt to disrupt Florida’s food-producing supply routes and recruit African-American soldiers. In fact U.S. African-American troops took part in the battle including the famous 54th Massachusetts regiment featured in the movie “Glory”. A re-enactment of the battle at Olustee is held each February.
Joseph and I arrived at Olustee Battlefield Park under cloudy skies. Right after our arrival, a gentleman pulled up from the local area and began chatting with us. He owns some of the timber plantations in the surrounding area and was killing time at the park while a relative visited someone at the nearby prison.
I located a pine tree and installed the Tufteln EFRW antenna. Meanwhile, Daisy found a pine cone or two to deconstruct. It was nice to be at a location at which she could be off-leash and wander.
I began with 40 meters as usual but the noise on that band was horrendous – S7! So I moved to 20 meters figuring that would be quieter. NOPE! Again, S7! Well, shucks! I told myself to just call CQ and see what I could hear. Only the strongest calls broke through the noise and even then, I sometimes lost a hunter as the band appeared to be shifting. After twenty minutes on 20 meters, I switched to 17 meters hoping the noise might be better there. Nope – S7 AGAIN! I needed a few more contacts for a valid activation so I hung in there for five more minutes getting four contacts and then called it QRT.
What the heck could have caused such noise on all three bands I tried? There were power lines but I was nowhere near them. There were no other sources of noise I could see at the site. And then I remembered the nearby Baker Correctional Institution, the prison the gentleman’s relative was visiting. It was a large facility. Surely there was a lot of electric equipment with surveillance cameras, etc. That must have been the noise source.
It was time to move on. We drove secondary roads which took us through pine forests in the Osceola Wildlife Management Area and Gainesville, FL, home of the University of Florida.
Just outside of Gainesville is Paynes Prairie State Park (K-3647). Paynes Prairie contains 23,000 acres of preserved Florida uplands and freshwater wetlands and is designated as a National Natural Landmark. The native Timucua people lived there until the Spanish explorers took the land from them. Later it became home to the largest cattle ranch in Florida until the land was sold to the State of Florida in 1970.
I checked us in and headed to our campsite. This was the first time either my brother or I had camped like this in nearly 30 years! We successfully set up the tent. I put together and used my new SOTO Windmaster stove without blowing either of us up. I threw something together for dinner and it ended up being yummy and filling. Before I knew it, the daylight was nearly gone and I had yet to fit in an activation here.
Daisy and I headed back to the car as the parking area for these tent-only campsites was the only nearby spot with an opening in the canopy overhead. On my second toss, my weight soared over a tall pine branch which made the EFRW antenna nearly vertical. I jumped onto 20 meters and was hit with a pile-up! In 35 minutes, I logged 23 contacts even though the noise level at this park was not great either. The band, too, was a bit on the variable side. I finally called QRT because the daylight was nearly gone.
I hurriedly packed up my POTA gear and headed back to our tent site to relax, recharge my KX2, and type up notes for my article. So much had transpired this day and my thoughts swirled with what improvements I’d make to my camping set-up. While I typed and reflected, Daisy curled up to sleep on her own sleeping bag as it was after her bedtime.
All in all, it was a good first day for our trip. Tomorrow promised to be a challenge as the forecast called for rain ALL day – ugh. But a little rain never stops a POTA Babe…or does it? Stay tuned…
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