Ironically–and a testament to my terrible timing–I purchased the equivalent of the AX2 package on Jan 30 (yes, two days before the Feb sale started) and I paid $130.51 shipped. I can confirm that $101.94 shipped is a great price!
I decided to purchase a second AX1 package yesterday, basically to have a dedicated AX1 system for my Elecraft KX2 field kit.
Note that Elecraft is not a sponsor of QRPer.com (though they really should be, shouldn’t they–? Please put in a good word for us!) and I have no affiliation with them other than buying, using, and evaluating their products.
Driving home on Thursday, December 8, 2022, I popped by Food Matters in Morganton, NC and grabbed one of their amazing curried chicken salad wraps.
I sat in the car and listened to a podcast as I ate a late-ish lunch. I looked at my watch and sorted out what time I needed to be back at my home in the mountains. After a little mental math, I realized I had about 90 minutes to fit in a little radio fun.
Where to go on a rainy day?
Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)
Since it was a Thursday and I knew Tuttle would be open, it was really a no-brainer. Tuttle is only an 8 minute drive from the parking lot at Food Matters, so I made my way to Playmore Beach Road!
En route, I made a mental inventory of what radios and antennas I had packed in the car. I knew I had my KX2 and although its internal battery had already powered me through three or four activations already, I knew there’d be enough charge for one or two more.
Also, since it was raining, I thought it would be the perfect day to set up under Tuttle’s excellent picnic shelter.
As for an antenna, I remembered putting the AX1 in my antenna box, so why not pair the two and operate in the dry?
Funny, but after I started recording the activation video (below), I convinced myself that I needed to make some coffee. I pulled out my field coffee kit and set it up for a quick brew.
The park had completely shut off all water fountains and closed the rest room area, so there was no place to get fresh water. Fortunately, I had *just* enough water left in my water bottle after lunch. Almost the perfect amount for a cup of coffee but no more.
This wasn’t a planned cuppa’ so I used one of my last Starbucks Via coffee packs. Had I planned this in advance, I would have ground some beans at home and made a pour-over coffee.
That’s okay, though. The Starbucks packs are better than no coffee at all.
Field Coffee Kit
If you’re curious about the contents of my field coffee kit, here’s the list:
I recently built a tabletop QRP HF antenna for 17 and 20 meters, in the spirit of the Elecraft AX-1, so I could operate at lunchtime on the campus where I teach. My wants were something small, that would fit in my work bag, that didn’t require a tuner, and could work on a couple of different bands. But on a lark I decided to attempt a POTA activation at Lake Thunderbird State Park (K-2792) pairing this antenna with my Penntek TR-35 QRP CW transceiver. I figured I’d maybe get one or two QSOs and then switch to a long wire in a tree. But what happened amazed me.
I talked to seemingly everyone. Beginning at 9:00 AM September 26th I worked both 17 and 20 meters for an hour and a half and made 37 contacts from across the country. I even had a Swiss guy call me back on 17 but he faded before we could finish. This antenna, at least as a CW POTA activator, works. Granted conditions were very good, but I’ve replicated this multiple times in the past few weeks, just recently at a picnic table in the parking lot of the Route 66 Museum (K-8644) in Clinton, OK (there is quite a thrill in urban activations).
It has also reasonably low profile and very quick to setup and take down. It is also quite a conversation piece when I set it up at school. I elevated the counterpoise by attaching it to a nearby oak and an interested undergrad sheepishly asked if I was listening to the tree!
The build is pretty simple. Physically the antenna consists of a small painters pole from Walmart and an old tabletop camera tripod. I found a nut that fit the screw portion of the tripod and hot glued it into the orange connecting section of the pole. That way the tripod can then be screwed onto the pole. The RF parts of the antenna consist of a 38” telescoping whip that I scavenged from the rabbit ears antenna that came with my RTL-SDR. It connects using the original connector which was hot-glued into a hole I drilled into the top of the painters pole. I found similar small 3 or 4-foot whips from AliExpress for cheap and these would probably work fine.
I then soldered a long length of speaker wire that was wound into two coils: the top for 17 meters (24 turns) and the bottom for 20 meters (25 turns plus the former 24-turn coil). The speaker wire was the soldered to the center of a BNC connector which I hot glued and taped to the pole. I soldered a short piece of wire from the shield of the BNC for the counterpoise and added an automotive spade connector to attach to a 17-foot length of wire. I also included a switch between the coils and the BNC connector to select either just the top coil (17 meters) or both coils (20 meters) using solder, hot glue, and tape. I then covered my shame in silicone tape.
The most time-consuming aspect of the project was tuning the antenna. It required trial and error to first tune the number of turns on the 17-meter coil and then the 20-meters coil. I extended the counterpoise (for me it’s best when slightly elevated) and the telescoping whip. I performed the tuning with the whip not fully extended to give room to tune in the field. Using a nanoVNA was useful here, as was soldering a pin to the wire to poke through the wire at various parts of the coil to find the best SWR.
In use, the antenna can be affected by both body capacitance and how the counterpoise is situated, so I found that an in-line SWR meter was helpful in making sure all was well. Once set up it is easy to fine tune by just adjusting the whip length. 1.5:1 SWR is about how well I can tune on average. Obviously if you have a tuner you would just have to get it close.
There are a million variation on a small base-loaded vertical antenna, and you can definitely improve upon this design. And, besides the super well-built and elegant AX-1, QRP Guys sells an interesting looking kit, and there are some good 3D printed designs I might want to try out. But regardless how you go about it, it might be worth giving a tiny antenna a shot.
When we spend the summer in the province of Québec, we always set aside at least one day to hang out in Old Québec. This portion of the city of Québec is simply stunning: it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and the birthplace of French North America.
No other place in North America reminds me more of the years we lived in Europe than Old Québec.
We’ve been to Old Québec a countless number of times over the past two decades; we enjoy checking out the architecture, the window boxes full of flowers, and the numerous museums.
Old Québec is, of course, quite touristy–especially if you visit on a weekend. It can be incredibly busy and also challenging to find parking especially if, like us, you have a cargo box on top of your car (many parking decks have strict height restrictions).
On Tuesday, July 26, 2022, we decided to make a trip into Old Québec to visit some of our favorite book shops, small businesses, enjoy a lunch together, and soak in some of the amazing weather.
My wife encouraged me to find a nice POTA site and–wow–is one spoiled for choice! There are no fewer than 10 POTA parks in/around Old Québec. Check out the POTA map–each yellow dot is a park:
I know Québec City well enough to know that some of these parks wouldn’t be terribly easy to activate since they’re historic buildings and sites–I think it could be done, but you might need to seek permission in advance. I think it would be incredibly fun to set up a multi-park rove on foot; in fact, I’ve put that on my bucket list for a future trip!
The park I was eager to activate is the largest in central Québec City: The Plains of Abraham. It’s a beautiful and open urban park that overlooks the the St-Lawrence river. It’s Québec City’s version of Central Park.
Plaines d’Abraham (VE-1019)
I was very fortunate: after we dodged a little road construction, I found parallel parking on Ave Winfred-Laurier next to the Parc Jeanne d’Arc.
Typically, when I do field activations while on vacation, I squeeze them in and around our family activities and travels. This is quite easy to do because our family enjoys a good hike and we love our parks.
On July 4, 2022 (Independence Day in the US!) my wife and daughters had their own activities planned for the day which opened up nearly a full day–at least a good 5-6 hour window–for me to do park activations solo.
I had numerous park choices in/around Québec City–an area rich with POTA sites.
I thought that I could either spend the day hitting one park further afield or hit multiple parks clustered together.
I chose the latter, so I started researching the POTA Map for Québec City.
In truth, pretty much any of the parks in Québec City could have been pieced together for a multiple park run. In fact, there are a number cluster in the city center and in Old Québec, but I was keen to explore a little cluster of parks I noted in the Saint-Foy area west of Québec City:
The map below shows just how close these four parks are to each other. Very doable!
These parks were so close to each other, I considered parking in the middle and simply walking to each site, but after reviewing the distance between the potential activation sites at each parks more carefully, I realized I wouldn’t have the time to activate all four parks if I walked it.
It was this activation that reminded me how brilliant it would be to own a folding bike like by buddy Jim (N4JAW) uses on each of his nearly daily POTA activations. With a bicycle, I think I could have actually activated these more quickly than I could with a car because there’d be no need to find a parking spaces at each site.
I decided I’d try to hit my four parks in this order:
The only park I’d visited in advance was Parc Cartier-Roberval so I knew I’d need a little time to find activation sites, etc. at the other three. If the activations took longer than expected to validate with 10 stations logged, I might have to skip the final park.
Maybe it’s just in the nature of those of us who love QRP.
We get a small thrill out of seeing what we can accomplish with less.
On the morning of February 7, 2022, I received an email from a subscriber in South Carolina who had placed an order for a new Elecraft KX2 and an AX1 antenna package. He picked this particular combination because he wanted the most simple and easy-to-set-up field radio system for impromptu CW POTA activations and a little random QRP fun.
He mentioned that, at his age, mobility is a bit of an issue and even though he knew a wire antenna would be more effective, deploying it while walking on uneven ground just wasn’t in the cards. The AX1 was a much more manageable and packable system. Plus, as he said, “I’m not going out to work DX. I just want to play and have fun.”
Only a week after placing his order, he was having buyer’s remorse which prompted his message.
He explained that he had exchanged emails with a friend in his radio club who told him he’d made a foolish mistake and that the AX1 was completely ineffective as an antenna and would only lead to disappointment. His friend said [direct quote here], “I owned [an AX1] for a month and was never able to make a single contact. It is really good at being a dummy load and nothing more! This thing shouldn’t be marketed as an antenna. It doesn’t work.”
I pointed out that I’ve used the AX1 numerous times in the field and have yet to be disappointed.
Before I used the AX1, I too, was very skeptical but after actually using it (instead of simply theorizing about it) I found it’s one of my most valuable antennas for a quick and fruitful activation. I pointed him to this playlist that includes all of my AX1 activations on YouTube. In all of these activation, I’ve limited myself to 5 watts as well even though the antenna can handle a full 10 or 15 watts from the KX2 or KX3.
I told him I’d been planning to pair the AX1 with my Mountain Topper MTR-3B and, it turned out, that very day a small window of opportunity opened in the afternoon. I told him we could both see how the AX1 might perform with three watts of power, especially since he’d planned to use 10 watts with his KX2.
The AX1 needs a little help from an antenna tuner (ATU) to get a match across the 40, 20, and 17 meter bands. Of course, I could always mount the AX1 on a tripod and attach an in-line ATU, but I love the simplicity and speed of setup when paired directly to a transceiver that sports an internal ATU. To be clear, the Icom IC-705 has no internal ATU, but I was able to get away with using a capacity hat to match impedance on 20 meters.
The new Xiegu X6100 (above) has an internal ATU–a good one at that! As soon as I took delivery of this loaner unit from Radioddity, I plotted hooking it up to my AX1 to see how it might shake out in the field!
Last week, my family hopped in the car and took an eight hour drive to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
We’ve had such a busy 2021 that we decided to take a full week prior to Christmas and fit in some proper vacation and family time.
We love going to the coast off-season to avoid big crowds. Turns out, we chose well, too: it’s as is we have the whole of the Outer Banks to ourselves. Other than a couple days with some “invigorating” weather (which we actually enjoy) it’s been absolutely spectacular.
While radio plays an important role in any travels, my family time always takes priority. The good thing about activating parks is that radio and family time often go very well together!
On Friday, December 17, 2021, my daughter Geneva (K4TLI) and I decided to spend the day together while my wife and other daughter worked on an art project at our rental cottage. We had a few loose plans, but mainly wanted to fit in a nice beach walk, possibly discover some new scenic spots, and enjoy a take-out lunch together.
She very much liked the idea of fitting in a bit of POTA, so we hit the field with two sites in mind.
My Subaru is still in the body shop getting repaired after a bear decided to open the doors and make himself at home, so we have a Toyota Camry rental car on this trip. It’s been a great vehicle for sure, but its trunk space is limited and we packed quite a lot of food knowing local restaurants would be closed this time of year.
We all limited our luggage and I limited the amount of radios and gear I took. I could write an entire article about my holiday radio and antenna selection process (seriously, I put too much thought into it) but in a nutshell I limited myself to two radios and two antennas.
When my wife and I made the difficult decision to move back to the US in 2003, we had a wide variety of options of where to live. There was no doubt in our minds, though, that we would end up settling down somewhere in the Asheville, NC area.
We’re both from western North Carolina and had both–at different times–lived or worked in Asheville. It’s a beautiful area with a good arts scene and loads of outdoor activities.
These days, as I’m involved with both Parks On The Air and Summits On The Air, it’s an especially appealing place to live. We’ve a number of accessible POTA/WWFF entities and loads of summits to activate.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
Any time I drive into Asheville, I pass by the Blue Ridge Parkway.
There are a number of easy parkway access points on the north, east, south and west sides of Asheville. I typically pass by the eastern access point of the BRP on Tunnel Road. Both the Blue Ridge Parkway Headquarters and the Folk Art Center are within spitting distance and both have picnic tables making setup and deployment quite easy for POTA/WWFF ops!
On Monday, November 29th, 2021, I found that I had a good 30-45 minutes to kill before heading home after running errands in town. My car was empty, as I was hoping our collision shop would ask me to finally bring the Subaru in for repair. They were waiting for one critical component to arrive.
Side note: Bears in cars
As I mentioned in a previous post, in late October, a bear opened all four doors of our car and proceeded to check inside for food. He wasn’t exactly “surgical” in his investigation and was likely frustrated when he realized there was no food to be found inside (never store food in your car in bear country).
It was pouring rain, but I had a respectable three hour window to fit in a park activation while visiting my parents in the foothills of the NC mountains.
I had such an enjoyable experience pairing my Elecraft KX2 and AX1 antenna under a shelter at Tuttle Educational State Forest during a previous rainy day activation, I decided to revisit the same site.
Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)
I knew I would likely be the only visitor at Tuttle that day; it was pretty cold and very wet.
Knowing rangers might not expect visitors on a day like this (keeping in mind this type of park caters to educational groups and are otherwise relatively quiet) I made a courtesy call to the park headquarters. I asked the ranger for permission to use their main shelter for an activation.