It was Tuesday, December 26th, the third day of my winter-break Florida POTA trip. As my brother Joseph and I were moving at a leisurely pace this morning, I decided to work in a quick activation at the campsite as the antenna was already in the trees from the prior night’s activation.
Even though this second activation at Little Manatee River wouldn’t count toward my 2024 goal, it was still a valid activation. POTA is like eating potato chips – You can’t do just one! I had five QSOs on 40 meters to begin and then 14 on 20 meters before calling QRT. We needed to get on the road and head south.
My brother desperately needed a new Thermarest as the old one he brought on the trip was not working for his back. He had always wanted to visit an REI store. We found one in Sarasota-Springs and stopped by. He found a better sleeping pad and I found a few items I needed to add to my arsenal – a small brush for cleaning sand off items, a camp pillow so I didn’t have to lug my pillow from home in the future, more bug-repellant wipes, and a smaller quick-dry towel. Happy with our purchases, we resumed our journey southward.
We had lollygagged enough in the morning there wasn’t sufficient time for an activation on our way to the next camping destination – Collier-Seminole State Park (K-1847). The drive was nearly all interstate and not that exciting. It never ceases to amaze me how many people live in Florida!
Collier-Seminole State Park is located in southern Florida as you head toward the Big Cypress Wildlife Management Area and Everglades National Park. The Big Cypress Swamp was the last refuge of the Seminole Indians. Collier-Seminole State Park lies along the Tamiami Trail, a road from Tampa to Miami that was constructed in the early 1900’s and runs through the Big Cypress Swamp. An advertising mogul Baron Collier (for whom Collier County and Collier-Seminole State Park are named) was a significant investor in the Tamiami Trail and, in fact, bankrolled the completion of the east-west portion of the road.
After you enter Collier-Seminole State Park, on the right is the last existing Bay City Walking Dredge. This dredge was used to build the Tamiami Trail and would follow drilling and blasting rigs. The dredge dug a canal which provided rock fill for roadbed drainage of the completed road. It is a unique and huge piece of equipment.
Some parks are easier to activate than others. This was not one of the those. My first hint should have been when I was asked to read the rules when checking in. The first rule is nothing in the trees. I mentioned I am a ham radio operator and asked if it be ok to put an antenna up with an arborist line that won’t damage the tree. That request was met with an immediate and emphatic “No!” Rules are rules and, as I brought my hitch mount and SOTABeams mast on the trip, I could work around that restriction.
I planned to set up my antenna and get on the air in the comfort of my tent as I had at the previous park – Little Manatee River State Park. However, running right in front of our site and all through the campground were power poles. This campground was also much larger than our previous one. I wasn’t sure how much RFI I might get from the surrounding RVs and power lines as we appeared to be the only tent at this site.
While setting up, the campsite host came over and introduced herself. When I mentioned I am a ham radio operator, she said she remembered seeing a ham in the past in this park operating down at the docks on the Blackwater River. He set up his mast near the picnic pavilion there. I really, REALLY wanted to fit another activation in today and decided to attempt a quick activation as it was nearly sunset.
The parking lot at the dock was vacant. I pulled my vehicle in and began setting up near the boat landing. I could have (and maybe should have) opted for my 20-40 Pacific Antenna dipole. It had been quite awhile since I’d used it. However, the sunlight was fading fast and I figured I’d be able to deploy the EFRW quicker since I used it most often.
I hadn’t used the EFRW antenna in quite awhile with the SOTABeams mast. At first I couldn’t recall how to attach it. Then I remember the small attachment that comes with the mast to which I could attach the feed-end of the antenna with an S-carabiner and paper tape wrapped above it so it would not slide off as I raised and seated the mast on the hitch mount.
As I set up the antenna, the mosquitos began to hunt me in earnest. Remember those bug-repellant wipes I purchased earlier in the day? I grabbed one and smeared it all over any exposed skin areas. That kept them from biting me but not from driving me nuts while setting up my equipment. I usually sit in my Helinox chair in the open air for an activation; however, that was NOT an option tonight. I cracked the car window, dropped my coax in, rolled up the window near the top of the frame, and sought refuge in the car.
The activation itself was not the easiest either. Forty meters, the best band I figured for this time of day, was flaky unlike the previous night. Signal reports were variable, both on my end and the other. QSB was an issue. I was frequently interrupted by ops tuning up or other random transmissions. When I decided I had enough contacts and was going to call QRT, ops kept calling me (usually a nice “problem” to have). Finally someone started calling CQ on top of me and I figured that was enough of an excuse to call it a night. Given the difficulties I encountered, I was thrilled to log 21 contacts.
As I noted in my last article, expect the unexpected with POTA. Just because an activation begins or proceeds with difficulty doesn’t mean it won’t end on a good note. I braced myself for the onslaught of mosquitos upon exiting the car and discovered there were no mosquitos. They were gone! As I slowly and carefully gathered my equipment in the light of the full moon, I reflected on what I learned and might do differently next time.
At three days into the trip, I had activated five parks despite the weather conditions and having to divert from my planned itinerary. I was halfway to my goal of nine or ten parks for this trip. I lay in the tent that night under the full-moon thinking how blessed I was to be here doing what I love. Yes, the rain and mosquitos presented challenges, but challenges are good. They are an opportunity to learn and be flexible. Tomorrow would be a big day as I planned to activate two parks, both of which I knew nothing about. Flying by the seat of my pants, how would that work out for this POTA Babe? Stay tuned…
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