K3ES Field Report: Hiking with Molly and discovering a new two-fer activation site!

Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following field report:

Molly is on the trail of a POTA activation.  Temperatures are in the 40s, but there is still snow on the ground.

A Hike and a 2-fer

by Brian (K3ES)

When you live in northwestern Pennsylvania, and a February day shows up with the sun shining, moderate temperatures, and nothing pressing on the calendar, it is time to go and enjoy the outdoors.

One of the best ways to do that is to take a hike with your dog.  Hopefully  your dog is like Molly, who doesn’t mind taking a break mid-hike for a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation.  So on Wednesday, February 21 we scheduled an activation and jumped in the truck for a drive to the trail head.  The hike to and from the activation site would be a nice change from the short walks we had been taking to the pond behind our house in the colder weather, and from activating while sitting in the truck.  And, to better share the joy with our POTA hunters, we would make this activation a 2-fer, giving them credit for both the North Country Trail National Scenic Trail (K-4239) and Pennsylvania State Game Land 024 (K-8725).

Molly is ready to go.  She is not at all amused by waiting for me to take pictures.

Since I had hiked the planned route before, both solo, with friends, and with Molly, I expected that the route would be familiar.  Some of it was, and some of it was brand new to us.  You see, the North Country Trail volunteers had been busy since we last hiked as far up the trail as we planned to go.  They had cleared and marked an entirely new route for one section  of the trail, bypassing an old favorite activation site!  So, we got to do some exploring, and we found a new favorite activation site.  Bonus!

Finding a New 2-fer Site

One of the things that I enjoy about POTA is planning my activation.

Since days long ago as a Boy Scout, I have enjoyed outdoor navigation.  Map and compass always fascinated me.  Things have gotten much easier with Global Positioning System (GPS), online maps, and online satellite imagery.  Still, I do most of my activation planning while sitting comfortably at home with a tablet or a computer.  For this trip, finding the newly marked trail (that had not yet been transferred to the online map) presented a bit of a challenge.  While I could follow the marked trail easily, I needed to be sure that I had entered Game Land property so that the 2-fer activation would be valid.

Thankfully, I had access to an app on my smart phone to help me solve this problem as we walked along the trail through the woods.  The On X Hunt app combines GPS, topographic maps, satellite imagery, and tax office databases to identify land ownership (even when the owner happens to be the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania).  Full functionality of this app is not free, but as the owner of a parcel of land, it is something I had elected to pay for.  Once it became clear that the newly marked trail would not quickly rejoin the prior route, I set up the app to record our track on the map.  After confirming that Molly and I had definitely crossed PA Game Land property line (there were no marking signs along the new trail), we went just a bit further, then found a promising spot to set up for the activation.

With a change to the K-4239 North Country Scenic Trail route, we found a new 2-fer site within K-8725, along the partially snow-covered Game Land road that carries this section of the Trail.

Setting Up to Activate

I chose to locate our station in the woods beside a Game Land road that provided the path for the North Country Trail in that particular area.  We set up on the inside of a bend flanked by trees with long overhanging branches.  I placed my chair in the woods on the inside of the bend, and tossed a throw line over a branch on the outside of the bend, then deployed my Packtenna EFRW with 71 ft wire as an inverted V across the road.  I used the throw line to hoist the middle of the radiating wire up about 30 ft, and secured both the feedpoint and the far end of the antenna to nearby trees, about 6 ft off the ground.

Even though I did not expect traffic on this road (shaded areas were still snow covered, and the snow showed tracks only from woodland creatures), I try to deploy my wire antennas high enough that they are not a hazard to others who may travel through.

Temperatures were rising, but with the high only expected to hit 50F, I brought a blanket to give Molly some additional insulation (though she is a rough, tough POTA dog, as a Boston Terrier, her coat is not particularly thick).  I laid out the blanket beside my operating position,  so that it could provide both top cover and insulation from the ground.

Molly is settled in for the activation.

I connected my RG316 coaxial cable to the antenna feedpoint, set up my camp chair next to Molly, set up the radio, and prepared my log book. In very short order, I was on the air, spotted by the Reverse Beacon Network, and logging contacts.

A view of the shack at the beginning of the activation on 10m.


Since I was starting the activation early in the afternoon, I elected to begin on 10m.  This activation, like most of my others was completed exclusively using 5 watts of power and CW mode.

My first contact came from a hunter from France, not a bad start at all.  Consistent with my normal activating habits, I bounced around making contacts on most of the HF amateur bands from 10m to 40m.  Interestingly, on 30m, normally one of my most productive bands, I made only a single contact.  Propagation can be fickle.

In the general excitement occasioned by our visitors, I forgot to take pictures.  So, all that remained was the record of their passing, written in footprints on the road.

An Activation Interlude

As I worked my way through the bands, I followed my normal practice of listening to the code with earbuds.  I find that this helps center my attention on the incoming CW signals, and it makes me unobtrusive when others might be in the area.  In this instance, it also reduced my situational awareness of other things happening nearby.

In fact, it was not until my eye caught a hint of movement that I detected our visitors.  First one, then two, and ultimately four large dogs ran over to make our acquaintance.  Molly was more than a bit surprised herself, as she had been wrapped in the blanket to protect her from the cool and the breeze.  Our visitors were interested in everything:  attention from me, a new canine friend to greet, and a chance to pause from their jaunt through the woods.

Because Molly has been intimidated by large dogs in the past, I had caught her leash and kept her corralled under my chair.  Honestly, while there was much excitement and tail wagging (sadly, Molly, having no tail, could only wag her back end), there were no dogs traumatized during the completion of this activation.

A couple of minutes into the greetings and introductions, the visitors’ companions arrived onto the scene.  Two women on horseback were riding along the Game Land road.  It was at precisely that moment that I became aware how glad I was to have suspended my antenna high overhead!

We exchanged pleasantries. I answered some questions about my amateur radio activity.  Then the riders, horses, and canine entourage continued on their way up the road.  At that point I retrieved my radio, clipboard, logbook, and key from the ground (at least one of the 20 canine feet found my feedline, dragging station components to the ground), and got set up again to continue operating.  I note that a thick cover of fallen leaves makes for a soft landing when gravity takes hold of your KX3.  I also owe a hearty thank you to the operator who waited patiently when I unceremoniously left the air for a few minutes.  He was still trying to assure that the contact was complete, when I returned.

Happily, Molly settled quickly after our visitors moved on.  With cooler temperatures and a bit of a breeze, she was happy being cocooned in her blanket.
After getting the station back together, I finished the activation with a number of contacts on 40m.

Wrapping-Up and Activation Results

I operated for a bit longer, putting a few more contacts in the log.  At that point Molly was shivering a bit, so I packed up the station and her blanket, and slipped on my pack.  Then we headed back up the trail for truck, home, and Molly’s dinner.  We had a good activation, making a total of 45 contacts (including 4 European DX contacts) in just over 2 hours on the air.  I will include both a Table with contacts by band, and a map.

Band Number of Contacts
10m 4 (with 2 DX)
12m 4
15m 6 (with 2 DX)
17m 5
20m 13
30m 1
40m 12
Total 45

There and Back Again

Just before 2030z (3:30 EST), we started our walk back.  Molly and I both welcomed the exercise of the walk, because temperatures were starting to drop as the afternoon progressed, and walking kept us comfortably warm.  As usual, Molly thoroughly enjoyed sniffing all of the new smells along our route.  But even with the delays this caused, we made it back to the truck for the drive home, and we were not too late for dinner.

The round-trip hike was about 3 miles, and I was pleased that the pack rode well on my back, despite being heavier-than-normal.  For this solo trip up the trail, I added Molly’s blanket and water bowl, water and a snack for both of us, my hiking chair, and a basic survival kit.

When we started back, Molly was ready to go.  You could play some high notes on a leash that tight!
Later in our walk, Molly got to lead the way off-leash for a bit…
One of my favorite parts of this section of the North Country Trail is a pontoon bridge.  Molly normally does not like the feel of the expanded metal mesh on her paws.  It is stapled to the deck to help hikers avoid slipping into the creek.  This day, Molly went across the bridge like a champ.
Of course, she did have to stop for a view from the bridge…


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Final Thoughts

Molly and I both thoroughly enjoyed our hike and our activation.  We are looking forward to making the same trip again as winter continues to loosen its hold, and warm, sunny days become more common.  In fact, one of my goals for the year is to make this trip enough times to simultaneously complete kilos at K-8725 and K-4239.  Currently I have just over 600 contacts from each entity, and several more successful activations will be needed to get to 1000 contacts, particularly since I will be running CW mode at 5 watts.

Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

14 thoughts on “K3ES Field Report: Hiking with Molly and discovering a new two-fer activation site!”

  1. Brian, What a great report. You logged some great contacts. It seems Molly enjoyed herself as well.

    I guess I need to homebrew a couple VK3IL paddles… I’ve always admired those. They look simple enough to build, even with my skill set with an iron.

    BK TU AGN 72 de W7UDT ID SK ee

    1. Hi Rand,

      I definitely recommend giving the build a try. I was uncertain about my first attempt at surface mount, but it went so well that I have now built about a dozen. I really like the feel and the performance, except in the cold, when numb fingers lose tactile sensation…

      Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

  2. 2fers make it so much better
    John ve3ips

    I spent time reviewing trails and found a 2fer that also had a unoticed trail for a 3fer

    Better done on SSB as many times there is confusion and repeating it several times in cw is a chore

    We have a 4fer and you really need to be in the sweet spot.

    1. Hi John,

      Finding and setting up to activate n-fers can be lots of fun. I wish you success with the 4-fer!

      Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

  3. Greetings, Brian and Molly

    Thank you for the 2fer contact I was at US-6761 that day operating from my POTA minivan with a 40-meter ham stick type antenna mounted on the roof rack cross bar. You had a very nice signal into S.E. Michigan, it was QSB up here that caused the fading. 72 es CU AGN de Jeff K9JP

  4. A wonderful outing for both you and Molly ! I am sure that she appreciated the extra insulation while you were operating.

    I can relate to trying to juggle a CW activation and answer questions from the public. Unfortunately there is no Q-Code for “Please stand by while I talk to visitors on horses” 😉

    Cheers & 72

    Michael VE3WMB

  5. Great report, Brian! You gotta love those abnormally warm winter days. On Tuesday I ordered the parts to build the VK3IL paddle. I noticed in your photo that yours has some “girth” and I am curious what you added to get that? I imagine that it provides a little comfort when holding it? Thanks.

  6. Looking over a few lists, I don’t see any Q codes before QR… so I think QEQ would work well (as in “equine” or “equestrian”).

    While I enjoy taking dogs out for walks, letting them run free (especially 4 of them) in the woods is not a good practice.

  7. Brian made a good comment for all of us to heed — wearing earbuds or headphones in/over both ears can rob us of the ability to hear what is going on around us. Without that situational awareness, bad things could happen if someone or something were to sneak up on you! I strongly suggest using only one earbud or headphone and keeping the other ear “open” to hear what is going on around you. This is the same advice I’ve heard given to runners/hikers/walkers … don’t be caught off guard!

    73, Nat, N4EL

  8. Brian:

    Thanks for sharing your recent activation with us. Molly looks like she enjoyed herself, canine visitors and all. What a pretty place for an activation! GL on your pursuit of the double kilo.

    The POTA Babe

  9. Propagation out west in Colorado during the summer is a bit tougher and I find myself struggling for 10 contacts during tougher band conditions. Thus, I go with the flow, and rejoice when I get 10 and enjoy the scenery when I get 4 contacts. Thanks to POTA, I am seeing parts of Colorado I wouldn’t normally see. I make sure to take my days off when I get them so I can play radio. a bad day at POTA is better than a good day at work. LOL. Cheers, Davey –KU9L

  10. Great write up Brian. Looking at your QSO map I can’t help but wonder why I was never able to hear you as you have pins all around me. One of these days I hope to snag you so will keep trying. HLO to Molly.

    Dale / W7HLO

  11. Sounds like it was a great hike and activation. I’m curious where you got that knob for your KX3? I really like that!

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