When Plans Change: A Relaxing “Plan B” POTA Activation at Lake James State Park

Lately, it’s been a proper challenge to get out and activate.

I’ve had a number of projects that have kept me at home working and when I do head out the door, my timing has been tight. While I love squeezing in park activations when I’m otherwise busy running around town, I also never activate if it’s truly inconvenient.

I’m a big believer in never feeling pressure to activate. Rather, I believe in enjoying the radio journey and therapy.

This is why I don’t pay close attention to my stats in either the POTA (Parks On The Air) or SOTA (Summits On The Air) programs. Maybe when I’m an empty-nester in a few years I’ll spend some time working on my numbers–for the fun of it–but for now, it’s just not in the cards. (Admittedly, when I have more free time, it’ll be fun to achieve my first Mountain Goat award!)

On Monday, April 15, 2024, I planned a trip to my hometown of Hickory, North Carolina, to take my father out to lunch at the airport café.

A 2020 photo from KHKY

If you’ve been a subscriber/reader for long, you’ll know that for the past five years, I’ve spent a lot of time in Hickory doing caregiving for my mother. I would typically spend a night or two in Hickory per week and take her to her frequent oncologist and specialist appointments. .

When she passed away in January, and my sister and her daughter moved in with my father, I no longer had a need to do weekly overnight trips. Indeed–I have no place to stay as the house is full. It’s all worked out really well and now our family trips to Hickory are mostly day trips with my wife, daughters, and Hazel.

It was during those overnight trips that I would fit in park activations–there are a number of parks around Hickory that I would frequent.

Thwarted Rove

I’d plotted a proper POTA rove en route to Hickory on the 15th. I planned to hit a number of parks I used to activate frequently–at least two parks on the way and one or two parks during my return home.

I packed my car with three different radios and a variety of antennas with the idea of using a different pairing at each park.

Twenty minutes into my journey to the first park that morning, I received a call from my daughter’s physician who reminded me that she had an appointment at 2:00 in the afternoon. Doh!

Somehow, that appointment didn’t make it into the family calendar and it was too late to shift it to another date.

I’ll admit: I was bummed.

This dramatically changed my schedule, but I was determined to fit in at least one activation and lunch with my father. As I was driving, I did the mental time math–if I activated Lake James, it would be a very modest detour and I would have an hour or so to play radio. I’d need to pick up my father no later than 10:45 to take him to a (now early) lunch.

This would give me just enough time to get back to the QTH and pick up my daughter no later than 1:30 PM.

I called my father and confirmed it all.

Lake James State Park (US-2739)

I arrived at the Lake James entrance around 8:45 AM. The weather was beautiful and ideal for POTA.

I knew I had about one hour to fit in this activation and I wanted it to be relaxed since the rest of the day would be pretty pressed, time-wise.When I first arrived at the Lake James parking area, I thought I was going to be the only visitor on the site. After hopping out of the car, though, I heard a group of people shouting and then noticed a load of cars and a school bus at the opposite end of the lot.

Turns out, at least two school groups were visiting on a field trip.

I made my way to the lakeshore and picked out a picnic site in the shade and with a nice antenna support (i.e. tree) just waiting to assist in my activation!

I decided to pair my Elecraft KX2 with an end-fed half-wave my buddy Steve (MW0SAW) built for me a couple years ago.

As I started setting up the antenna, a school group, led by one of the park rangers, moved to a site nearby to do some hands-on science. Part of me hoped they might venture past my site and I was ready to tell them all about amateur radio, if asked, but they remained at the same site during my entire activation.


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On The Air

Again, since I had a fair amount of time to complete this activation, I thought I’d experiment by heading to the higher bands, knowing they’d have less activity.

I started calling CQ POTA on the 10 meter band which turned out to be completely dead. After a few minutes of calling CQ, I moved down to the 15 meter band.

On 15 meters, I worked three stations in six minutes. Not too bad, especially at this time of the morning!

Next, I moved down to 17 meters where I logged an additional five stations in a mere three minutes! Wow! Then 17 meters fell silent.

I knew 20 meters would likely be active and it was time to speed up the activation so that I could grab the ten needed to validate the park and be on my way.

On 20 meters, I worked an additional five contacts in four minutes including a Park-to-Park with K2JVB (thanks!).

When I called QRT (reluctantly) I left an active pileup behind.


Here’s what this five-watt activation looked like when plotted out on a QSO Map:

Activation Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation.  As with all of my videos, I don’t edit out any parts of the on-air activation time. In addition, I have monetization turned off on YouTube, although that doesn’t stop them from inserting ads before and after my videos.

Note that Patreon supporters can watch and even download this video 100% ad-free through Vimeo on my Patreon page:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Morning POTA is Amazing

You can *just* see the EFHW hanging in the tree next to the picnic table.

While I was disappointed I was missing out on a nice POTA rove (haven’t done one of those in ages) I was pleased the one activation I performed was so pleasant and relaxing.

Plus, this now gives me an excuse to plan yet another POTA rove!

I had a great lunch with dad afterwards, and made my way back up the mountain to pick up my daughter on time.

In the end, it all worked!

Soon, we’ll be in our summer schedule and I should have much more time to activate parks and, especially, summits!

How about you? Do you find you have more time to activate during the summer? Or in other seasons? Let me know in the comments section.

Thank you

Thank you for joining me during this short lakeside activation!

I hope you enjoyed the field report and my activation video as much as I enjoyed creating them!

Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon, and the Coffee Fund. While not a requirement, as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.

As I mentioned before, the Patreon platform connected to Vimeo makes it possible for me to share videos that are not only 100% ad-free but also downloadable for offline viewing. The Vimeo account also serves as a third backup for my video files.
Thanks for spending part of your day with me!

Cheers & 72,
Thomas (K4SWL)

8 thoughts on “When Plans Change: A Relaxing “Plan B” POTA Activation at Lake James State Park”

  1. I’ve always wondered… Why all the timings? If this is supposed to be a relaxing therapeutic activity, why the stopwatch? OK, maybe you’re just noting the timings afterwards when you review your logs. Yet, I see the same behavior more and more in blog and video reports from other ham “influencers.” Seems a good way to turn relaxing activities into anxiety loaded competitions.

    BTW, shouting “Woo Hoo” after a record number of contacts in 10 (or whatever) minutes is a slap in the face of the hunters who waited through one of your pile-ups for a SINGLE QSO.

    1. Hi, Bob,

      My “Woo hoo” is basically a bit of excitement from this activator for logging his first ten. Sometimes? It’s just hard for me to contain. 🙂

      I never like leaving the radio with a pileup of hunters calling me. Fact is, my main priority that day was having lunch with my father. He and I are both still adjusting after the loss of my mom this year and our bonding time is usually at the airport café. A little ritual of ours dating back many years. So, I had to call QRT because I wasn’t going to cut our lunch short–not for anything.

      In fact, this is just a fact of life on the activating side of things. If I had unlimited free time, I’d be in the field until the pileups dwindle away. I’m a busy dad/son, though, and have to fit in my activations around my family time which is where my priority lies. I’m never trying to slap anyone in the face by ending an activation or being excited for hitting 10 contacts. 🙂

      Also, I use my watch to monitor the time to put in my logs. I’m not referencing my watch to time myself or anything like that. Walking into an activation, I already know roughly how long I’ll have and when to call QRT. Even quick, rushed activations are still therapeutic to me. It’s all a wonderful hobby and radio fun.

      We’re all different in how we do POTA, but I think it all works out to be a pretty amazing radio fellowship!


  2. I usually feel rushed doing my activations as well. Partly because of antenna choice. Dx Commander expedition, while great, takes some time to setup. I’m building an efhw here soon because my buddy N4JAH (as N4J for the GA State POTA weekend) and I activated 5 parks over the course of 7 hours, netting 110 contacts for me, using a simple 49:1 efhw cut for 40m on the long end. We had a tight schedule of him being home before the xyl and daughter at 3pm and an average of 35 minutes between parks. But his setup of the efhw and kx3 got us going in about 5 minutes. So plenty of time to play radio at about an hour per park.

    1. I hear you, Anthony.
      Isn’t ita amazing just how quickly you can deploy an EFHW when you’ve had a bit of practice? I’m certain this is why I use mine so frequently. I don’t mind spending extra time deploying an antenna if I have that time. Roves are certainly one of those times when speed of deployment and packing up equates to more time on the air.
      Sounds like you’re having fun!

  3. I don’t POTA or SOTA sadly as I don’t have the time unless it is chasing the odd activator, like you I have a busy family schedule and work some long hours.

    Summer is great though for nipping out for a satellite pass for 10 minutes either into the back garden or a local high spot. With the lighter nights I was out last week for a great Greencube pass and worked 23 stations including 14 Japanese stations, one Chinese station and three stations in the USA (NV, WA and CA). All in less than 30 minutes.

    Tis a hobby and sadly hobbies come last for me when everything else is done so make the best use of the time I have 🙂

    It doesn’t help that we have standard dreich British weather either….you need to do some videos with cloudy skies in NC as I refuse to believe you have so much sunshine, ha!

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