Tag Archives: Blue Ridge Parkway

Postcard Field Report: Cheap POTA thrills with the TEN-TEC R4020 and Chelegance MC-750

Welcome to another Postcard Field Report!

My Postcard Field Reports are information-packed, just slightly more concise and distilled than my average field report so that I can publish them on a busy day.

T-T R4020

One of the least expensive radios I’ve ever purchased is my TEN-TEC R42020 two-band CW only radio. I believe I paid $120 for it (shipped!) a couple years ago and it sat on my shelf unnoticed for months until I took it on a POTA activation last year.

Here’s the admission:  I really love this little radio!

It is not a feature-rich radio, and the sidetone sounds like a 1080s handheld arcade game, but it works a charm! The receiver and audio are fantastic and it sports two of my most useful POTA/SOTA bands: 40 and 20 meters.

What’s not to love?

POTA time!

I had an early morning doctor’s appointment on Thursday, February 23, 2023. As a little reward  for doing my annual physical I decided to add a POTA activation to my morning. This was a last minute decision, so only a couple minutes before leaving the house that morning, I grabbed my TEN-TEC R4020, the Chelegance MC-750, and my Spec Ops Backpack (filled with all other field accessories), and I hit the road!

I chose the MC-750 that day because I needed an antenna that could be configured to be resonant on 40 meters since the R4020 has no internal ATU. That and I couldn’t remember if I’ve configured the MC-750 for 40 meters in the past. I know I’ve deployed the MC-750 with the 40M coil, but I think I may have used an ATU to match it.

I arrived at the Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378 NC) mid-morning and set up in very short order. Continue reading Postcard Field Report: Cheap POTA thrills with the TEN-TEC R4020 and Chelegance MC-750

Lunch Box POTA: Pairing the Elecraft AX1 with the Penntek TR-45L!

As I mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been using the Elecraft AX1 in heavy rotation this year. I made a commitment to myself to do a string of activations with it in January and February and also pair it with a wide variety of radios beyond the Elecraft KX2 and KX3.  So far, I’ve paired the AX1 with the:

In truth, the AX1 can be paired with any radio when you use a tripod mount.

It’s a bit trickier when connecting the AX1 directly to a radio and using the Bipod as a support because 1.) the antenna connector on the radio mustn’t be too high off of the surface, 2.) there needs to be enough clearance on the back of the radio to accommodate the bipod legs and 3.) ideally, it’s nice to have a ground point on the radio, else you’ll need to clamp the counterpoise to the shield of the BNC connector.

In addition, if your radio doesn’t have a built-in ATU of some sort, then you’ll also need a capacity hat or external ATU to finish off the impedance match. (For more notes about the AX1 and AX2, check out this previous post.)

Of course, you don’t have to use Elecraft’s bipod to support the AX1 when directly connected to a radio–you can build or 3D print your own support–but the bipod is really convenient when it does work.

Objective: Lunch Box Radio

One radio I’ve been eager to pair with the AX1 is the Penntek TR-45L.

Why? Because I love the form-factor.

Something about having a lunch box-sized radio sitting on a table with a telescoping whip protruding out the back and, with that combo, the potential of making contacts all over the globe. Continue reading Lunch Box POTA: Pairing the Elecraft AX1 with the Penntek TR-45L!

Speedy POTA: An impromptu post-hike activation with the Elecraft KX2 and AX1

On Friday, January 27, 2023, I dropped off one of my daughters at the library for a creative writing session.

Hazel was along for the ride, so we decided to hike on the nearby Mountains To Sea Trail (MST) while my daughter was in the meeting.

During the hike, I realized that I should have taken my field radio pack along because it would have been so easy to activate both the MST and Blue Ridge Parkway as a two-fer.

Instead, Hazel and I enjoyed our hike and got back to the car with about 35 minutes or so to do an activation–including set-up, on-air time, and pack-up.  That would leave me just enough time to pick up my daughter at the library before they closed for the day.

Challenge accepted!

Because I had been using the Elecraft KX2 and AX1 recently, I had both packed in my Spec-Ops EDC backpack.  In theory–even filming a video at the same time–I knew I could probably fit in a whole activation with 25 minutes on the air. I only needed 10 contacts, and I’ve never been in a situation where the AX1 couldn’t achieve that goal.

Hazel and I grabbed my bag from the car, I started recording a video, and we made out way to the nearest picnic table at the Blue Ridge Parkway HQ parking lot! Continue reading Speedy POTA: An impromptu post-hike activation with the Elecraft KX2 and AX1

New Year’s Day POTA: New VK3IL Pressure Paddle, New FT-817/818 Narrow Filter, and New TPA-817 Pack Frame!

I try to start each year by doing a POTA or SOTA activation on New Year’s Day.

POTA actually issues a certificate for completing an activation on New Year’s Day so there are typically loads of activators and hunters working the bands. It’s an ideal time to play radio.

This year, we had a number of family activities on New Year’s Day, but I made a little time to fit in an activation during the late afternoon at my most accessible spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway: the Southern Highland Folk Art Center.

As with my last activation, I suspected I would be operating in the dark, so I brought my LED lantern along for the ride.

Although not intentional, this New Year activation had a lot of new-to-me stuff involved!

New VK3IL Pressure Paddle

The prior evening–on New Year’s Eve–while my wife and daughters were watching a classic movie movie marathon, I used the time to heat up the soldering iron and work through a few kits and projects that had been sitting on my desk.

One of those projects was a Pressure Paddle designed by David (VK3IL).

Michael (G0POT) sent me the Pressure Paddle circuit board and heat shrink via Andy (G7UHN) several months prior. [Thank you so much, fellas!]

To my knowledge, the VK3IL Pressure Paddle isn’t available in complete kit package, but it’s quite easy to source everything yourself.

On his website, David provides the Gerber files you’ll need in order to purchase the circuit boards from your favorite manufacturer (I’m a huge fan of OshPark here in the States).

Next, you simply need to order the components. Here’s the list assuming you’re using DigiKey:

  • Quantity of 2: 732-7579-1-ND (CAP CER 10000PF 10V C0G/NP0 0805)
  • Quantity of 2: BSS806NH6327XTSA1CT-ND (MOSFET N-CH 20V 2.3A SOT23-3)
  • Quantity of 2: 311-470KCRCT-ND (RES 470K OHM 1% 1/8W 0805)
  • Quantity of 2: 1738-SEN0294-ND (RP-C18.3-ST THIN FILM PRESSURE S)
  • Quanity of 1: Three conductor wire with a (typically) 3.5mm plug (note that I had one of these in my junk drawer)

Keep in mind: the components are surface-mount. If you’re not used to working with SMD components (ahem…that would be me) I suggest buying a few spares of each in case you lose or damage one or more during the build.

It also helps to cover the finished board in heat shrink not only to protect the board and make it easier to grip, but most importantly (if you’re me) hide your electrically-sound yet unsightly surface mount soldering job.

The build might have taken me 20 minutes.

New FT-817ND Narrow CW Filter

Some time ago, I purchased a second FT-817ND with the idea of doing full-duplex satellite work. I later realized I could be taking the second FT-817ND out to the field more often if I simply had another narrow CW filter installed, so I built one.

This New Year’s Day activation was actually the first time I’d taken this particular FT-817ND and its new narrow filter out to the field!

New Armoloq TPA-817 Pack Frame

Earlier this year, I also decided that I wanted to outfit my 2nd Yaesu FT-817ND with an Armoloq TPA-817 pack frame. The idea was to experiment with building a rapid-deployment field kit around it.

This is actually one of the big projects I’m working on in 2023. I’ve yet to sort out the antenna mount I’d like to use with this frame based on how I plan to deploy it. Continue reading New Year’s Day POTA: New VK3IL Pressure Paddle, New FT-817/818 Narrow Filter, and New TPA-817 Pack Frame!

Breaking in my new-to-me Elecraft K2 and CW Morse SP4 paddles during a POTA activation

Radio addiction is a real thing.

We addicts often justify purchases knowing that, in the world of amateur radio, we can always sell gear we’ve purchased without losing too much money each time.

At least, in theory!

In November, last year, I was in touch with a friend who I recently purchased my second KX1 from; turns out, he had an Elecraft K2 he was willing to part with, as well. This is a radio he built (thus, the workmanship is top-shelf) and had updated over the years to be fully loaded the way I would want it myself: all firmware upgrades, all important upgrades for CW and SSB operation, and an internal ATU.

His was also a 10 watt (QRP) version of the K2; Elecraft owners call these “K2/10s.”

My first K2/10 next to the TEN-TEC Argonaut VI I was Beta testing at the time.

I owned a K2/10 between about 2008 and 2016. I sold the K2/10 to purchase another radio. The week after selling my K2/10, a local ham offered me an insane deal on a used K2/100 (a version with a 100W amp) from a club estate sale. No one in our local club wanted it and he really wanted to unload it. I purchased it and for a good three years it was my only 100 watt radio.

My K2/100

Then, in 2019, I sold the K2/100 for $800 and purchased an Elecraft KXPA100 amplifier with ATU for $800 to pair with my KX2 and KX3.

Using my KXPA100 during Field Day in 2020.

I’ve never regretted that decision because I do love the KXPA100 amplifier, although I seldom use it (so much so, I’ve even considered selling it). To date, it is the only device I own that outputs 100 watts.

I did miss the K2. It’s a fantastic radio to take outdoors and has superb receiver chops for the most demanding, RF-dense conditions.

When my buddy offered up his K2, I couldn’t resist. I made myself a goal, though: I had to sell enough stuff to fund the purchase. My friend was good with this. Even though I could have paid him immediately, I asked if he could wait for payment and shipping until I had gathered the funds from sales. I needed that dangling carrot because, frankly, I dislike selling things; I’d rather give away or donate stuff, but I did need to raise funds for this purchase. Continue reading Breaking in my new-to-me Elecraft K2 and CW Morse SP4 paddles during a POTA activation

QRP DX: A quick POTA break with the Penntek TR-45L on the Blue Ridge Parkway

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.

Continue reading QRP DX: A quick POTA break with the Penntek TR-45L on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Antenna Challenge #2: K6ARK End-Fed Half-Wave paired with the Elecraft KX1

I mentioned in a previous post that my personal Activation Challenge for 2022 was “to build a new antenna each month and deploy it at least once that month during a field activation.”

In January, I built a doublet with a military fixture/winder.

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.

I decided, instead, to pair the K6ARK antenna with my Elecraft KX1 which has a built-in ATU that can both monitor the SWR and find an impedance match if needed. Of course, I turned off the internal ATU for the activation, but if I needed it, I knew I could engage and use it. Continue reading Antenna Challenge #2: K6ARK End-Fed Half-Wave paired with the Elecraft KX1

A quick roadside activation with the Elecraft KX2 and CHA MPAS Lite

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.

Next, I popped by Vlado’s (N3CZ) QTH to drop off some parts so he could finish the repair of my Elecraft KX1.  While chatting with him, I received a message from our grocery store noting that our 4:00 curbside pickup would be delayed. This opened up a one hour window where I could perform an activation! Woo hoo! Continue reading A quick roadside activation with the Elecraft KX2 and CHA MPAS Lite

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Xiegu X6100 and PackTenna Random Wire

I’ve had a lot of fun testing the Xiegu X6100 in the field. Each time I’ve taken this little shack-in-a-box radio outdoors, I’ve paired it with a different antenna.

I’ve paired it with the Elecraft AX1, an End-Fed Half-Wave, and my 28.5′ speaker wire antenna.

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.

I use te PackTenna random wire quite a lot in the field, so I was curious just how effectively it might pair with the X6100. Continue reading POTA Field Report: Pairing the Xiegu X6100 and PackTenna Random Wire

Pairing the Xiegu X6100 with the Elecraft AX1 antenna…will it work?

If you’ve been reading QRPer for long, you’ll note that I’ve become quite a fan of the uber-compact Elecraft AX1 antenna.

Not only has the AX1 never let me down, but it can even outperform my other antennas in terms of snagging contacts during an activation. Yes, it can even work some DX as well.

Normally, I pair the AX1 antenna with my Elecraft KX2 (above) or KX3 (below).

I’ve even paired the AX1 directly to my Icom IC-705 using a homebrew simple capacity hat (thanks again for that idea LY2H!)

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!

The X6100 lacks only one thing that the KX2, KX3, and IC-705 have: a good, accessible grounding point on the chassis.  The AX1 needs a counterpoise to operate efficiently. Continue reading Pairing the Xiegu X6100 with the Elecraft AX1 antenna…will it work?