Category Archives: Skills

Guest Post: Preparing radio and trail gear for a once-in-a-lifetime, epic through-hike

We’re excited to welcome Bryce Bookwalter (KD9YEY) as a guest contributor on QRPer.com!

I had the pleasure of meeting Bryce at the 2024 Hamvention, where he shared his plans for an ambitious hiking adventure next year. Knowing he wanted to incorporate radio into his journey, I asked if he’d be willing to bring us along by sharing updates on his preparations and experiences on the trail.

To help fund his adventure, Bryce has started a GoFundMe campaign, which you can learn more about at the end of this post. Additionally, please note that some of the gear links below are affiliate links that help support QRPer.com at no extra cost to you.

Bryce, take it away…


Backpacking Booky: A Quest to Hike the Appalachian Trail

by Bryce (KD9YEY)

The dream is formed, and it always seems so attainable. It’s as easy as the desire to walk in the woods and explore the beauty of nature. To find community with the world around you and discover your reflection is no different than the hills and streams that stand steadfast against time. I feel like anyone who wishes to pursue a long hike starts with these feelings and lofty ideas of what the trail will be like and the experience they will have…and then you realize you’re going to have to poop out there.

Hello, my name is Bryce Bookwalter and in 2025 I am attempting a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. This has been a goal of mine since I was in my freshman year of high school in 2005 and first learned about the trail.

I was in Front Royal Virginia at the time and one weekend we went hiking and our trail passed by the A.T. I remember hearing that this same trail traveled all the way from Georgia to Maine and it blew my mind.

I wanted to hike it right then, and I still want to hike it today. Life happens of course, and I had to let the dream go for some time. I have found myself in a unique time of my life recently where I will be between schooling and a new job and I realized that if I don’t hike the trail now, I may never get the opportunity again. My education has been off and on throughout the last decade and 5 years ago I ran out of my GI Bill that I received from the Army. With only 2 semesters remaining until I received my degree, I started doing construction to save money to return to school. 5 years later I have returned to Indiana University, and I am now 1 semester away from finally receiving my degree in Community Health. With this milestone accomplished, I have decided that before I start another job I need to try and complete my long-time goal of hiking the A.T.

It is an interesting turn of events that brought me back to the love of backpacking. It would seem an illogical path to say that Ham Radio is responsible for my rekindled passion for the outdoors, but this is in fact the case. Two years ago, my stepdad Joe (W9NVY) got into Ham Radio, and I decided to at least get my Technician License so that we can communicate through the local repeaters. Later that year we both participated in the GOTA team for a local Field Day club out of Indianapolis. After working to set up the antennas and operate for 24 hours, I was hooked on HF!

Since then, I have received my General License and am currently working on my extra. I learned about Parks on the Air and discovered that there is a whole side to this hobby that involves preparing gear, packing it, and carrying it into the wild to set up and operate remotely. This speaks to me in so many ways. Not only do I get to play radio, which I love, but I also get to add hiking and backpacking to the mix.

I am a gear junkie! I will admit it openly. I love researching gear and seeing what works for others and obtaining gear and putting it to the test in the field. This harkens back to some of my favorite aspects of the military and Civil Air Patrol before that.

Civil Air Patrol days.

So, let’s talk gear! When preparing for a thru-hike, there is a lot to consider. You’re not just planning for a weekend outing but for a 4–6 month long adventure. It’s hard to know what to take…and even harder to know what NOT to take. There is a saying that I agree with that says, “Backpacking is the art of knowing what NOT to take.” This is so true.

There are different levels of backpackers, from conventional to ultralight.

Conventional backpackers can find their packs weighing 30-40 lbs. or more. Ultralight typically have their base weight (weight without food and water) down to under 10 lbs. I find myself somewhere in the middle. I lean towards lightweight, but I certainly do not consider myself an ultralight backpacker. Especially considering I will be carrying radio equipment with me along the trail.

The journey of finding the right gear is a constant process, though I believe I have narrowed the list down considerably. So, I will break my gear down into two sections: Backpacking Gear and Radio Gear. Continue reading Guest Post: Preparing radio and trail gear for a once-in-a-lifetime, epic through-hike

New to Morse Code? Embrace Your “Fist”! A message to budding CW operators

Are you a new CW operator, fresh on the airwaves?

Do you find yourself worrying about what your Morse code “fist” sounds like to others, or about making mistakes on the air?

If that’s you, then this message is for you:

Public Service Announcement: Stop worrying about how you sound on the air!

Several times a month, I hear from new CW operators who I’ve logged during POTA and SOTA activations .

This is no surprise! As I’ve said before, I wholeheartedly encourage new CW operators to get started by hunting stations in these on-the-air activities. After all, CW exchanges in POTA and SOTA are predictable and straightforward, giving you a great opportunity to practice your sending and receiving skills.

More often than not, new CW operators who’ve reached out will apologize for their “fist” or code sending skills. I get it…still…and I mean this is the most positive light possible… 

No Apologies Necessary

Give yourself a break! If your sending isn’t perfectly smooth or machine-like, that’s absolutely fine.

If you stumble and make mistakes, that’s absolutely fine too.

In fact, it’s a beautiful reminder that there’s a real human being on the other end of the signal, someone at their own place in their CW journey.

Yes, we should all strive for a good, readable fist, but especially in the beginning, no one expects you to sound like a seasoned operator.

And remember: every single Morse code operator on the planet has been a beginner at some point. We’ve all felt nervous, made mistakes on the air, and even flubbed our own callsigns. I’m certainly guilty of all three, and, to be completely honest, far, far more than once!

Embrace the Learning Curve

So, who cares if you stumble a bit? I can confidently tell you that most of us on the other end of the contact are cheering you on! We’ve been in your shoes, and we know the thrill of mastering this challenging but rewarding mode of communication.

Instead of apologizing, you deserve congratulations for diving into one of the oldest and most skill-demanding wireless communication modes out there!

Mistakes Are Badges of Honor

Photo from my first POTA CW activation int he summer of 2020.

Be proud of those mistakes! They’re not setbacks, but rather milestones on your CW journey. Embrace them, learn from them, and keep sending.

Your ham radio community is here to support you every step of the way!

73/72, and I look forward to putting you in the logs!

dit dit

Thomas (K4SWL)

Planning a POTA Babe Trip – Part 3

(Note: As many of you know, I cut my spring-break Florida POTA trip short for personal reasons. However, I did not change this article and opted to leave the original itinerary intact as that was the intent of the trip.)

Having two POTA trips under my belt, I thought I’d share how I plan my trips in hope it will inspire others to undertake the same endeavor. After I explain my process, I’ll walk through the process using my spring-break POTA trip as an example.

The first questions to answer are where do I want to explore and how am I going to get there?

So far, I’ve traveled to Nova Scotia and Florida. Air travel was a necessity for the Nova Scotia trip but not my preference for travel in general. I loved to fly as a child but as an adult, it has lost its appeal. We live in a gorgeous country and have at our disposal a wonderful interstate system such that my transportation preference for a POTA trip is to drive. For a short trip (five to six days), I try to stay within 250 miles of my home QTH. For a trip longer than a week, I’m willing to drive 500 miles or more.

Google Maps

The next step is to decide where I’ll stay. Now that I am single, I need to watch my expenses closely. Camping is a great accommodation option if one is willing to put up with some inconveniences. So far I’ve found the campgrounds in the state parks to which I’ve traveled more than adequate. One has to be willing to walk to the bathhouse, accept whatever conditions the weather provides, and be less connected than we typically are in our modern society. Camping also requires certain equipment which I addressed in my first article.

Once I’ve nailed down my accommodations, it is time to begin choosing which parks to activate. For the past two trips, I chose parks based on their proximity to the roads I drove between accommodations, whether I needed to pay for access to the park, and how easily I could ensure I’m within the parks boundaries. My priority was to fit in as many park activations as I could during the trip.

Going forward, my criteria is the same but my focus is not. I want to spend more time in the parks I activate, choosing parks based on the scenery and/or other activities they offer so I may learn about the ecology and/or history of the location. I also want to savor the parks I visit, taking time to slow down and enjoy the experience.

So let’s walk through this process as to how I planned my spring-break POTA trip in April.

Choose a destination and how to get there

As I mentioned earlier, I prefer to drive. I’ll be gone six days for my April POTA trip, so I need to find a destination within 250 miles from Bloomingdale, GA. I chose to visit the state of Florida as I enjoyed my trip this past December and think the weather during the first week of April will still be comfortable that time of year.

Choose accommodations

For the Florida winter-break trip, I stayed in a different campground nearly every night. The advantage of that arrangement is I could cover more ground and experience more places. However, taking down and setting up camp every day eats up time and, depending on the weather, can be a pain. For the spring-break trip, I thought I might stay at the same campground the entire trip.

Itinerary for December 2023 POTA Trip Source: My Google Map

I searched for and found a map of all the Florida state parks with camping. There were several state parks within the 250-mile radius from my home; however, I also wanted a park that had lots of potential POTA sites nearby. After looking at my options, I chose Manatee Springs State Park at which I will stay three nights. Not far away is Suwannee River State Park which had availability for two nights. Bingo – accommodations done!

Source: https://www.floridastateparks.org/statewide-map

Source: pota.app

Choose which parks to activate

Now that I’ve chosen the parks at which I’ll stay, I need to figure out what POTA sites nearby are of interest. As I stated earlier, I want to choose activation sites based on what they can offer me in addition to the activation itself. Two prime activities at parks are wildlife viewing and hiking.

When I think of wildlife, I immediately think of national wildlife refuges. I Googled “best national wildlife refuges to visit in Florida” and found the following map. The refuge closest to the areas I plan to visit is St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge and, given what I read about that refuge, there is so much to see there that it may fill up an entire day.

Source: https://www.floridarambler.com/florida-parks-forests-wildlife-refuges/national-wildlife-refuges-in-florida/

 As for hiking, I googled “best hiking trails in Florida” and found  floridahikes.com. There were a fair amount of trails from which to choose though several were eliminated because dogs are not allowed due to the presence of alligators or ticks are a major problem. I took my time exploring the site finding trails close to or in the Manatee Springs and Suwanee River State Parks.

Now that I have my accommodations nailed down and some ideas for wildlife viewing and hiking, I need to fill in my itinerary. Continue reading Planning a POTA Babe Trip – Part 3

Learning Morse Code When Work Life Limits Practice Time and Classes?

After posting my 2024 Radio Goals post, Mark left the following comment:

My main goal would be to learn CW this year.

[…]My work schedule doesn’t allow me to participate in any kind of CW classes since I’m in bed by the time they start. Trying to listen to anything while I’m working (I drive a delivery truck) is too tough to concentrate on the task at hand. So I feel I’m at an impasse. Happy New Year QRPers.

Mark, it definitely sounds like you need CW training in some sort of asynchronous format like audio or video recordings that will allow you to practice during lunch breaks and any short openings you might have in the day.

I started my CW journey so long ago, that I don’t know what some of the current options are for pre-recorded CW training that follows the Farnworth method. I learned CW via Gordon West’s Novice CW Training tapes which were really designed to help you pass the Novice test, not necessarily for CW proficiency.

Using the Farnsworth method, characters are sent to you at, say 21 words per minute or so, while extra spacing is added between characters and words to slow the transmission down as you start your CW journey. This teaches you to learn each character at your target rate from the very beginning. As you become more proficient, the spacing between characters is simply shortened. No question, it’s the best way to avoid the “counting dits and dashes” issue that causes many beginners to stumble.

Any advice for Mark?

I’m sure there are some phone/tablet apps, audio programs, and YouTube channels out there that will allow you to study at your own pace. I agree that it sounds like your work schedule would make real-time online courses challenging.

Readers, please comment with links to any resources that might help Mark and others in his shoes.

Consistency and habit stacking…

My own two cents here: Mark, I would worry less about how long you’re practicing CW each day and focus on consistency. Even if it’s just 10-15 minutes per day (most of us can carve that out), a steady and reliable pace will have a most positive impact on your CW journey.

Also, I find “habit stacking” to be a powerful tool–I’ll explain, but click here for a proper, thorough explanation.

Basically, habit stacking works by adding on a new habit to one you already do.

A real-life example: I wanted to implement regular light stretching into my daily routine, but I was finding it difficult to remember. Out of entire week, I might remember to stretch two or three times.

Then a friend told me about habit stacking where you add the new habit to one you’re already doing.

One thing I do each morning without fail is brew my first cup of coffee. From day one, I would grind my beans, start the coffee maker, and while the coffee was brewing, I’d spend a couple of minutes doing stretches and squats.

It was so simple implementing this new routine and I’ve never once forgotten to do my morning stretches.

In your shoes, I’d find a habit you’re already doing where you typically have a moment of peace: making your coffee, taking off your shoes after work, brushing your teeth…whatever you do daily and works for you. Then add on 10-15 minutes of code practice.

Even if you only added 10 minutes of code practice per day, by the end of the year, you’d have accumulated a total of 61 hours!

I feel like prerecorded code practice or a good CW app might help. Also, you might try a device like the Morse Tutor or Morserino. (I’ve been tempted to buy both of these to test myself!)

Again, my hope is that our community here will have some advice based on recent experience to help you! Please comment!

Keying In The Rain: One rather soggy but incredibly fun POTA activation!

I’m lucky enough to live in a part of the world where–by and large–the weather is pretty darn nice.

In fact, I recently received a comment from a reader who jokingly said that I should work for the tourism board of western North Carolina because the weather always seems so pleasant in my POTA/SOTA videos.

It’s true: most of the time I hit the field to play radio, the weather is very pleasant.

That said, you see more of these “fair weather” activations because I tend not to make videos of ones in poor conditions mainly because I don’t like managing the camera in high winds, heavy rains, or even super cold conditions–especially when I want to get in and out of the field quickly. The camera tends slows everything down.

On Friday, December 1, 2023, though, I decided to do a park activation in the rain and make a video! Here’s my field report:

Pisgah National Forest (K-4510)

That Friday morning, I dropped my daughters off at classes, then made my way to the Mills River library to put the finishing touches on a field report and publish it. It was rainy and I wasn’t complaining; it had been a very dry fall in WNC up to that point.

After I published my field report and attempted to catch up on the email backlog a bit, I hopped in the car and headed to the Sycamore Flats picnic area in Pisgah National Forest (K-4510) and Pisgah Game Lands (K-6937).

That day, knowing it would be soggy, I packed my Discovery TX-500 which is pretty much rain-proof. By this, I mean that it’s designed to cope with rain, but it’s not designed to be completely submerged in water.

Truth be told, I had no intention of making an activation video. Once I arrived on site, though, I thought, “Why the heck not?” After all, other than being rainy and chilly, conditions were pretty pleasant. That and my OSMO action camera is completely waterproof.

I grabbed the camera and started filming the activation while closing up the car.

Setting Up

When playing POTA in the rain, I tend to select picnic tables or sites that are under the canopy of trees if at all possible. Trees not only provide antenna supports, but they also help divert a bit of the rain.

I found an ideal site under the canopy of a few hemlocks.

I deployed my PackTenna end-fed half-wave (EFHW) oriented (nearly) vertically and with the feed point close to the tree trunk so that it would be better protected from the rain. I wasn’t worried about the antenna getting wet, but I also didn’t want the toroid and windings to get completely soaked either. It’s never a bad idea to use what bit of natural protection the trees can offer.

As you can see in the photo above, I had my TX-500 completely exposed, but the battery, in-line fuse, and (to some extent) the speaker mic were all protected in the TX-500’s Telesin Case.

As always, I used my Rite In The Rain notepad which is a champ at handling wet conditions. Continue reading Keying In The Rain: One rather soggy but incredibly fun POTA activation!

Beyond the Basics with CW Innovations

Many thanks to Brain (K3ES) who shares the following guest post:


CW POTA activations can be enjoyable, and theraputic.  This photo shows the me activating from a picnic shelter on a beautiful spring day.

Learning CW:  Beyond the Basics

by Brian (K3ES)

I just finished my last class ever for learning Morse Code.  It was a lot of work, but it really improved my ability to communicate using the CW operating mode.  More importantly, this class taught me how to actually learn CW, by diagnosing the problems and barriers that inhibit improvement.  Then it gave me tools I can use to overcome those problems and barriers at any stage of my CW journey.  You see, I am not yet where I want to be, but I have made a giant leap forward, and I now know what I have to do to keep improving.

I guess it might help to tell you a bit about myself as a radio amateur, about the start of my CW journey, and about what motivates me to improve.

I got licensed in 2020, when I was working from home, and spending way too much time locked away from the rest of the world.  I saw a video about amateur radio, and thought it might provide an opportunity for increased personal contact despite social distancing.  I studied during my plentiful spare time, and passed the Technician, General and Amateur Extra license examinations in short order.  Once I was licensed, Elmers at Skyview Radio Society near Pittsburgh, PA helped me to learn and explore the hobby, encouraging me to be radio-active.

I found a compelling niche hunting for Parks on the Air (POTA) activators, and I started hearing about all the benefits that CW brought for activating parks:  tiny radios, efficient use of power, and automatic spotting via the reverse beacon network.  That motivated me to work on learning Morse Code.

A full CW station packed for a hike weighs just a few pounds.  This kit, based around an Elecraft KX2, fits in a small shoulder bag, includes all needed components and some spares, along with creature comforts for the activator.

I started my CW journey using a variety of apps and online tools.  I practiced with club members.  Thomas Witherspoon’s YouTube channel became a staple in my CW diet.  Every character copied was a victory.  All of this helped my ability and confidence.

I completed my first CW-only POTA activation in July of 2021, and have not looked back.  But, during one of my early park activations, I had a defining experience.  I could copy callsigns and standard exchanges with ease, but something off script would throw me off balance.

When a hunter finished his exchange and sent something followed by a question mark, I was lost.  We worked through it, and after several slow repeats, I understood that he had sent “COUNTY?”.  He wanted to know what county I was operating from.  I easily sent him the name of my county, but the experience left me certain that I needed to improve my copy skills.

It doesn’t get much better than this.  Operating CW under my favorite tree duing an activation of K-1345, Cook Forest State Park, in northwest Pennsylvania.

That certainty started me on a new phase of the journey, one involving formal training classes.  I took a few classes, and each class helped – I could look back and see the progress.  But none of them left me ready for CW communication beyond predictable exchanges.  I knew there had to be an approach to me get there, and there had to be something more efficient than working endlessly to copy code bulletins or on-air QSOs between other operators.

CW Innovations provided just that method with their Comprehensive Instant Character Recognition (CICR) Course.  CICR is not just a class, but a structured process for improvement, which includes self-diagnosis, targeted practice, a supportive learning environment, and partners working together to put new skills into practice on the air.

This figure provides an overview of the Comprehensive Instant Character Recognition Course.  Modules focused on each of the elements are introduced as the 10-week course progresses. (Click image to enlarge)

Instantly recognizing a received character is liberating.  Rather than performing mental translation, you learn to recognize each code sound pattern as a letter, number, or punctuation mark; in much the same manner that you immediately recognize the printed symbols making up the text on this page.  CICR provides the tools and methods for achieving instant character recognition, but also emphasizes that new weaknesses in character recognition will continue to appear as your copying of code becomes more challenging.  When that happens, it is time to circle back and further improve your recognition skills.  The same tools continue to work. Continue reading Beyond the Basics with CW Innovations

Guest Post: Watch Your Tone

Many thanks to Matt (W6CSN) who shares the following post  from his blog at W6CSN.Blog:


Watch Your Tone

by Matt (W6CSN)

In this modern era of radio technology, where even analog radio is largely digital, we amateurs are accustomed to perfect signal quality all the time.

Nevermind the perfunctory 599s that are handed out during contests, for activities like Parks On The Air and Summits On The Air I believe most of us like to send and receive an honest RST report.

R-S-T from the 1938 edition of the ARRL Handbook

Although subjective, readability (R) and signal strength (S) are pretty well understood quantities. But what about tone, the T in R-S-T ? When was the last time you sent or received a tone value other than “9” (the highest value) ?

Last evening, at the end of one of my frequent activations of the Presidio of San Francisco (K-7889), I struggled to pull a barely readable and very weak signal out of the noise. For what it’s worth, the natural noise floor was very low, with the geomagnetic field listed as “Inactive” on qrz.com.

One of these stations had a distorted signal ?

What made the signal particularly difficult was that it sounded quite distorted. The problem I faced was how to tell the OM that it sounded like his signal had been through a blender. The numbers in the Tone scale go from 1 to 9 but I did not have any understanding of the specific defects encoded by the scale. I needed to send a report, and quick, so I dashed out a “225” followed by “DISTORTED.” But I was unhappy that I needed to send an extra, unexpected word to explain the reason for the “5” tone.

Tone

1–Sixty cycle a.c or less, very rough and broad.
2–Very rough a.c., very harsh and broad.
3–Rough a.c. tone, rectified but not filtered.
4–Rough note, some trace of filtering.
5–Filtered rectified a.c. but strongly ripple-modulated.
6–Filtered tone, definite trace of ripple modulation.
7–Near pure tone, trace of ripple modulation.
8–Near perfect tone, slight trace of modulation.
9–Perfect tone, no trace of ripple or modulation of any kind.

http://arrl.org/quick-reference-operating-aids

When I got home I resolved to refresh my knowledge on the R-S-T system so that I could have it at my disposal while operating and on the rare occasion when a tone value other than 9 is warranted.

May your signals always be strong and pure.

73 de W6CSN

Guest Post: CW OPS Academy – a great route to CW skills

Many thanks to Steve (MW0SAW) for the following guest post:


CW OPS Academy – a great route to CW skills.

by Steve (MW0SAW)

I had tried twice before to self learn CW and failed to stay motivated past learning a few characters. If you can talk, you are capable of learning CW like any language. But as most CW operators have already discovered, most of us need to put the hours in, it’s a journey and an investment.

So about two and a half years ago I decided to have a go at learning CW for a 3rd time, my interest in DX chasing was strong and I met with a now good friend Kevin who introduced me to SOTA. I started using the G4FON windows application, using the Farnsworth method. After a few weeks I got to the point where I felt I knew most of the letters. I started operating basic DX <callsign report TU> exchanges and before I knew it my country count was increasing as I realised there are a lot of stations out there that only operate CW.

So the months went by, I got my first DXCC and I was content with my progress. I even tried to activate a few sota summits. Which was a bit of a baptism of fire I might add! I became interested in Thomas’s QRPer blog and YouTube channel, finding listening to the CW activations very helpful practice.

So after 18 months I was happy I hadn’t given up, but I couldn’t really have a rag chew and my biggest mistake I had realised is that I had become dependent on a cw decoder on the background of my PC. When listening to CW and looking at the decoder, your brain takes the path of least resistance. This totally bypasses your ability to decode CW in your head.

As it happened Kevin was fascinated to see a couple of my CW SOTA activation efforts. In the coming months he signed up for the beginners CW Ops academy course. Kevin encouraged me to join him and before I knew it I was on the course about 4 sessions into the semester.

CW ops academy has been created by some wonderful folks whose passion is to spread the joy of CW to more operators around the world. Each level is an 8 week, 16 session semester, with a bi-weekly zoom call with your fellow students. If you are serious about making a 1 hour per day practice commitment then you will be rewarded with new friendships, progression and motivation on your CW journey. It really is a great way to keep pushing forward and improving.

I decided to join the next level (fundamentals), but after participating in the first 2 sessions, Bob at CW ops, moved me up to the Intermediate class.  I just successfully completed this, ended at 25wpm characters with QSOs and stories at 20 Farnsworth. All the CW ops levels can be found on the CW ops academy website.

So I guess I have to try the Advanced level next to see if I have what it takes lol.

Every day each QSO I make and each YouTube video I hear gets that little bit easier, and I pick out more and more of the conversation. I would like to give a big thanks to the administrators and instructors of the CW ops academy. Also of course a big thank you to my fellow CW ops students and new friends

Check Out Vince’s Quick Start Guide to SOTAmat!

If you’re not familiar, SOTAmat is an incredibly valuable app and tool for spotting yourself on the SOTA or POTA networks when you’re truly off-grid and outside the range of mobile phone service.

Check out this two minute intro to SOTAmat:

Setting up SOTAmat for the first time can be a bit confusing, but it’s not difficult. It is important, however, that everything is set up in advance of your SOTA or POTA adventures.

Our friend Vince (VE6LK) has just published a “Quick Start” guide to SOTAmat. It’s concise, and covers everything you’ll need to get set up and running with SOTAmat!

Click here to watch on YouTube.

Thanks for putting this tutorial together, Vince!

SOTAmat is an incredibly powerful resource for those of us who activate parks and summits in remote locations. I highly recommend downloading the app and making it a part of your SOTA/POTA tool kit!

For more information about SOTAmat and for links to the apps, check out the SOTAmat website!

N5FY’s First CW POTA Activation!

My First CW POTA Activation

by Joshua (N5FY)

As I often do, I hunted yet another CW POTA activator during my lunch break while working from home.

I have been learning CW for most of the year. Early on, I realized that with a bit of practice sending, and after listening to recordings of POTA activations, like those from Thomas, I could reliably send the proper exchange needed to hunt a POTA activator.

If you can give your call sign, signal report, and state abbreviation, you can make the contact. I started early on with just the basics and then added some of the common “extras” like GM for good morning, TU for Thank You and then 73. Not only is this great practice for getting on the air sending CW, it’s also very rewarding while learning CW. The exchange is short, standard, and easy to follow with a bit of practice.

CW Practice with the Morserino32 and a Cup of Coffee
CW Practice with the Morserino32 and a Cup of Coffee

Once I finished my upgrade to Extra I focused all my spare time, not much though truth be told, on practicing CW.

At some point this summer I set the goal to Activate POTA/SOTA during the W4G SOTA campout this fall. This really wasn’t an aggressive goal, one I figured was attainable but also one that I could hold myself accountable to even knowing I had a very busy summer ahead of me.

W4G SOTA Campout Summit View Yanah Mountain Bald
W4G SOTA Campout Summit View Yanah Mountain Bald October 2022

During one of the LICW Club classes I heard again that their goal is to get Hams on the air to make a QSO. I thought to myself, yes, that is great, and I want to do more, but I know I have made many QSOs in CW on the air, albeit very short and simple ones. So, I was curious how many.

I jumped on the POTA site and looked up my statistics. I was surprised at how may hundred I had, and yet at the same time, I was a bit disappointed. It’s not that I wanted to have made more CW contacts, it’s that I realized that they were ALL from hunting and not a single one was from calling CQ.

So, I changed my goal.

I know that Hams, especially CW operators, are a great bunch of people and they want to see new CW operators succeed, so there is lots of patience when you call CQ. So, I decided to move up my timeline. This was on a Thursday, and Saturday was a likely candidate for a POTA outing, why not–?

Saturday was my birthday, and I knew I could get away with some personal free time in the morning where I could dive in and call CQ POTA DE N5FY. The next day, Friday, I firmed it up, I would head out in the morning, bring the new to me KX2 and see what happens.

Surprisingly, I was much less nervous than I expected, I had told myself that it wouldn’t help anyways to be nervous so just do it and see what happens. I made it to my local park, to the picnic table I frequent, then setup a No Transformer 2-Wire antenna with the KX2. One press of the ATU button and I had a 1:1 match on 40m band.

Of course, I have great timing. I could not believe the stations on the air on 40m. I never did look but there must have been a contest. I moved up and down about 20kHz and there were stations everywhere! I called “QRL?” on 2 different frequencies and had a reply before I landed on open frequency where I could call CQ.

N5FY First CW Activation KX2 Setup
N5FY First CW Activation KX2 Setup

I had not scheduled the activation; I knew I had a bit of cell phone coverage at this park, so I set the CQ POTA message to calling while I posted a spot.

After two calls, I had my first call back. It was time!

I could have freaked out here, but I was too focused on decoding to even be nervous! Of course, I had to send a partial call and a “?” once or twice to get the full call right. Of course, I made some keying errors. But the caller had patience and worked me and we made the QSO. Now I was really excited!

I called CQ and someone sent me back dits and dahs, and I decoded what they were sending! Boy, this was fun! I continued to call CQ POTA, and tried my best to decode the replies, several pileups, and lots of “?” sent by me. But I was making contacts and having a blast!

After a couple of silent CQ calls later, I switched to 20m. And, again, started to get replies back as well as a couple small pileups. In the end, there were a couple call signs that I could not look up, l had a letter or two wrong, but with almost 20 in the log I knew I had an activation and boy was I happy!

N5FY First CW Activation QSO Map
N5FY First CW Activation QSO Map

Looking back on the activation, and after talking to another Ham, it occurred to me why I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I might be.

You see, when you are the Activator, when you call CQ, the ball is in your court, you invite people to call back and they are there for you. I almost get more nervous hunting as I don’t want to slow down an activator or run over another caller. But when you are the one calling CQ, it’s your game!

Of course there were several hiccups along the way. For one, it got HOT sitting in the sun. I ended up deploying my hiking chair on the table as a sunshade and pulled a portable fan out of the car. Even the action camera overheated while recording the activation. I couldn’t get the KXPD2 paddle to key the KX2 on 20m when I first got setup. And of course, I had lots of sending errors (although fewer than I expected to have) and sent a A LOT of “?” asking for a repeat.

That said, I am very glad to have jumped in and will continue to activate CW going forward as I continue to build my CW skills. For me, confidence in the ability to Activate on CW is great motivation for practicing, which again, is my biggest learning. If I want to be a good operator, I need to put in the effort, and going out to play radio is one extremely fun way to practice!

73 Joshua N5FY