As I’ve mentioned in the past, I feel pretty lucky to live in an area that is flush with POTA sites. It’s not that we have numerous individual parks, but the parks we do have encompass massive portions of the area.
One park, in particular, that literally runs around and through Asheville, NC, is the Blue Ridge Parkway. When I’m in town and have a few free minutes, it’s quite easy to hit the BRP; it’s never far away. I can set up along the parkway pretty much anywhere, or go to the Visitor’s Center or Folk Art Center if I want to operate from a picnic table. In addition, the Mountains To Sea Trail runs along large portions of the parkway, so it’s very easy to hit it as well.
On Wednesday, September 28, 2022, I took my daughters to a class and had the better part of an hour to play radio. The BRP’s Folk Art Center was only a 10 minute drive from their class, so I made a beeline for the site as soon as I dropped them off.
I had the amazing Penntek TR-45L packed in my car, and decided to pair it with my Tufteln End-Fed Random Wire antenna.
For February, I decided to purchase and build a counterpoise-less end-fed half-wave kit from from Adam (K6ARK). This kit is available on Amazon.com for a mere $19.95 (affiliate link).
The build itself is pretty straight-forward and not terribly complicated. With that said, you do need a fine soldering iron tip and a little dexterity to manipulate these super tiny components. Adam includes instructions for building an EFHW with a counterpoise, without a counterpoise, or a random wire antenna. The coil can be configured as a a 49:1 Unun, 9:1 Unun, or 1:1 Balun.
If you choose the EFHW route you will need to solder one surface-mount capacitor on the board. If you’ve never worked with surface mount components before, take your time and use a good magnifying glass.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378 NC)
On Monday, February 21, 2022, on my way back from town, I hopped on the Blue Ridge Parkway and drove to one of my favorite roadside spots on a grassy hill surrounded by trees.
Since I configured the K6ARK kit as a counterpoise-less EFHW, I wasn’t entirely sure how stable the SWR would be in the field. For this reason, I was a wee bit nervous pairing it with my MTR-3B since that little radio lacks an SWR meter and really needs a good match.
There are days when I leave the QTH and have no idea if I have enough time to fit in a park or summit activation. Because of this, I always keep a radio field kit in the car.
On Monday, January 31, 2022 I had an appointment-packed day ahead of me, but I was hopeful I might be able to squeeze in a quick activation of some sort.
Specifically, I had a new-to-me super easy, drive-up SOTA site in mind: Peach Knob (W4C/CM-097). In fact, it’s a bit odd that I hadn’t activated this site before. It must be the most accessible summit (to me) in the area.
After a 2:00 appointment in downtown Asheville, I drove 15 minutes to the summit of Peach Knob where I discovered 1.) there was almost no space to park and 2.) what little space there was was taken up with crews working on a cluster of communications towers. In situations like this, the last thing I want to do is get in the way; that sort of activator persistence could lead to “no trespassing” signs in the future.
The site also reminded me that what I love about SOTA is the hike to the summit. Sites like this one are wedged between private property and city property–I just feel like I’m in the way, arousing neighborhood suspicions, and just doing the activation for the points. I’m not a points guy (though I’ll do a happy dance when I accumulate 1000 for ‘Mountain Goat’ status sometime within a decade at this rate).
Moving forward, I think I’ll skip drive up sites like this one; at least for HF activations.
At this point, I pretty much abandoned the idea of a field activation as I’d taken up the wee bit of free time in my schedule just checking out Peach Knob.
On January 10, 2022, I decided to try one more antenna: the PackTenna 9:1 UNUN random wire.
The Packtenna random wire is a brilliant little antenna to pair with radios like the X6100 that have built-in, wide-range ATUs. It’s such a small antenna and can easily find matches on my favorite POTA/SOTA bands: 40 meters and up. It’s also very compact and super durable.
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!
I’ve always believed that the first day of the year should be symbolic of the whole year.
At least, that’s the excuse I was using to fit in a quick activation on New Year’s Day (Jan 1, 2022).
I have had the new Xiegu X6100 on loan and planned to take it to the field, but that afternoon waves of rain were moving into the area in advance of a weather front. Since I don’t own this X6100, I didn’t want to risk getting it wet.
In fact, I had almost talked myself out of going on an activation, but my wife encouraged me to head to the Blue Ridge Parkway, so we jumped into the car and hit the road.
Our options on the parkway were very limited as they often are in the winter. In advance of winter weather, the National Park Service closes off large sections of the BRP because they have no equipment to remove snow/ice. Plus, you’d never want to drive the BRP in slippery conditions. There are too many beautiful overlooks to slide off of.
Thankfully, the Folk Art Center access is always open and incredibly convenient.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
We arrived at the parking lot and I very quickly made my way to a picnic table while my wife and daughters took a walk.
Many thanks to Josh for sending me this X6100 so promptly and performing the first firmware update!
I took delivery of the X6100 last week after returning from vacation in the Outer Banks. It was bittersweet as I was soeager to check out this new radio but simply had too many projects on the table to complete before Christmas day.
That and in the morning light after our return, my daughter pointed out that one side of my horizontal delta loop antenna had fallen to the ground. Fortunately, I was able to fix the antenna in short order. It’s certainly time to push the schedule up for completely replacing this 10 year old wire antenna!
X6100: Known issues
I had gotten a few messages from X6100 early adopters like Scott (KN3A) and Rich (KQ9L) noting that the current firmware version (the December 7, 2021 release) had taken care of a few initial bugs, but there were still a few outstanding points that specifically affect CW operators. Most notably:
Noise reduction (or DNR) in CW mode severely distorts audio
CW message memories can be stored and saved but cannot yet be played back on the air (SSB message memories are fully functional, however)
Fine tuning is limited to 10 Hz steps at the moment
Someone had also noted possible CW keyer timing issues.
At the same time, I had read mostly positive comments about SSB operation from QRPer readers and subscribers.
Frankly, knowing Xiegu’s history of pushing the production and distribution timeline ahead of a radio being fully-functional and properly tested, I expected a few bugs and issues that would need to be sorted out in firmware updates.
To be very clear: I’m not a fan of the “early adopters are the Beta testers” philosophy. I wish Xiegu would thoroughly Beta test their products so that they were more polished and fully-functional right out the door much like we expect from the likes of Elecraft, Icom, Yaesu, and Kenwood. There are almost always minor post-production bugs to sort out even with these legacy manufacturers, but issues should be of the variety that somehow slips past a team of Beta testers who actually use the radio.
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).
On Monday, October, 18, 2021, I finished a few errands in Asheville, NC and realized I had just enough time to squeeze in an afternoon activation. The weather was beautiful, the fall air felt amazing, and although I had no clue what propagation was like, I needed some field radio therapy!
Blue Ridge Parkway to the rescue!
I’ve mentioned in previous videos that pretty much anytime I drive into Asheville I pass by the Blue Ridge Parkway. Over the years, I’ve discovered numerous POTA (Parks On The Air) spots scattered along “America’s Favorite Drive.”
It’s fall, so we’ve autumn leaf colors and loads of tourists in the region–especially on the BRP.
Even so, I’ve one favorite overlook that is often overlooked by tourist!
It’s a little unofficial turn-out on the parkway that offers up spectacular views. I believe the reason tourists pass by it is because it’s located just beyond one of the most popular overlooks in the area: the Tanbark Ridge Overview. Tourists stop at Tanbark to enjoy the views not knowing that a mere +/-200 meters away, there’s one they could enjoy all on their own. Continue reading Field Report: POTA Roadside activation with a view!→
On Monday, September 27, 2021, I had just enough time to stop by the Blue Ridge Parkway on my way back from Asheville, NC and fit in a short activation.
I had my Xiegu X5105 along for the ride and decided to pair it with the MFJ-1984LP EFHW since I knew propagation was going to be rough.
That day, Earth was being pounded by CMEs and, frankly, I didn’t know how pleasant it would be on the air.
I picked one of my favorite spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway: a grassy hill I’ve used numerous times in the past. I love this particular site because it’s incredibly rare that anyone else parks or walks there, so I can set up larger wire antennas and not have to worry about others walking into the radiator or tripping over the counterpoise.