It was Monday, December 25th, the second day of my POTA winter-break trip in Florida. I chose Florida for this trip to avoid bone-chilling temperatures. What I didn’t and couldn’t avoid, though, was rain. The weather forecast before I left Bloomingdale, Georgia promised rain off and on during the first part of the trip.
I had two park activations planned for Monday, December 25th – Dade Battlefield Park (K-3615) in the morning and Little Manatee River State Park (K-1898) in the afternoon. After breaking camp at Paynes Prairie State Park and getting on the road early, a steady rain began as I drove southward toward my first activation. Well, phooey. I scrapped the Dade activation and headed instead for Little Manatee River State Park, the location of our next campsite.
Little Manatee River State Park is named for the Little Manatee River which flows 40 miles from a swampy area near Fort Lonesome snaking through the landscape before emptying into Tampa Bay. It is one of the few Florida rivers that were never significantly dredged or altered therefore it is one of the most pristine blackwater rivers in Southwest Florida. Park visitors can fish along or paddle in the river. There are also hiking and horseback trails in the park.
We arrived early at the park and, as it rained off and on, killed time in the car (much to Daisy’s dismay) until our campsite was available. The weather forecast had promised rain all day; but by 1:30 PM the worst of the rain appeared behind us.
My brother wanted to hike in the park and I figured why not work in an unexpected activation to make up for the one I planned but scrapped earlier in the day. The closest park not requiring an entrance fee was Moody Branch Wildlife and Environmental Area (K-6317). Daisy and I loaded up and off we went.
The 960-acres of Moody Branch was formerly used for grazing cattle and farming. It was purchased as a gopher tortoise mitigation park when developers needed an off-site alternative to on-site protection of rare species being negatively impacted by development. The site features hiking and horseback trails for the public and is managed with gopher tortoises and the Florida scrub jay in mind.
The drive was a pleasant one. We passed fields and fields of strawberries as well as plant nurseries. By the time we arrived at Moody Branch, the sun played peek-a-boo from behind the clouds and the wind vigorously whipped across the open fields and pastures across from the preserve.
Next to the parking lot was a small covered pavilion with a picnic table, but that was exposed to the wind. Walking past it and around a large oak tree presented a sheltered area. I snagged a branch, set up the EFRW antenna, and put my Helinox chair near the feed-end with Daisy lying down nearby. By this time, the sun was out and removing my hoodie and donning my goofy hat for the sun was a necessity.
As I had not scheduled this activation in advance, I hastily added it to the POTA site so the Reverse Beacon Network would pick me up. I started with 40 meters and was met with the least amount of noise on that band I had encountered so far in the trip. Yes! Now to call CQ and see who responded.
In short order, six QSOs were logged before I switched to 20 meters. By this time, the hat was off and the hoodie back on as the sun disappeared and clouds were rolling in again. But a POTA Babe is not intimated so easily. I remained in the park to snag 19 contacts on 20 meters and two on 17 meters.
After a quick walk to reward Daisy for her patience, we headed back to Little Manatee River State Park under gathering clouds to catch up with my brother and fix dinner. This being my third meal using the SOTO Windmaster, I was now in my comfort zone with the stove. Before long, dinner was served, cleaned up, and sunset upon us. I originally planned an afternoon activation at this park but had scrapped that plan earlier in the day thinking there wouldn’t be enough time. However, I had never done a night activation. Why not try it here?
Out came my POTA pack and the entertainment began of me trying to get my arborist throw line in the trees at the campsite. There were either low, scubby trees or tall pine trees. Two of the pines had branches that were usable assuming I could toss my line that high. I tossed and re-tossed my line repeatedly. Finally, after hitting the tent several times and nearly losing my throw weight in the tangled, lower foliage, I snagged a small pine branch that held.
The sun had set by this time. With my headlamp on, I set the fed-end of the antenna high enough in foliage that no one would walk into the antenna wire in the dark. The counterpoise I strung in a straight line out from the antenna and attached it with a S-carabiner also in foliage and flagged it with three strips of neon pink flagging tape. It was high enough and still in our campsite that no one should walk into it in the dark either.
I really didn’t want to fight the gathering mosquitos. Our tent had a small opening for an extension cord. Maybe I could run the coax into that opening in the tent, sit in comfort on my Luxury Map Thermarest, and see if that arrangement is an option for future camping activations.
Again, I hastily “scheduled” the activation and chose 40 meters thinking that band a better option for after dark. Yep! In 30 minutes, I had 16 contacts, including two code buddies and three friends. There was little noise and the signals were great! And, even better, no mosquito bites!
The day I thought would be a wash in regards to POTA ended up being a stellar day! I activated one planned park, added an unexpected one, and had my first nighttime activation, in the comfort of my tent. With POTA you have to expect the unexpected and what you get, might be better than your original plan. So, for my 2024 goal of 60 new activations, I had five down and only 55 more to go! Stay tuned…