I carved out a little time on Tuesday, August 24, 2021, to play POTA and take a hike at Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861).
Being August in the Piedmont of North Carolina, it was a very humid and warm day. That wasn’t really a problem, though, because Tuttle has so many well-shaded picnic tables.
Once I arrived on-site, I decided to deploy the Chameleon CHA Tactical Delta Loop (TDL) antenna for a few reasons: I thought it might make for some good daytime NVIS action, perhaps even a little fun on the 20M band, and it’s so darn quick to deploy.
With the state of propagation the way it is these days, though, I never know what to expect on the air despite the antenna or my wishes!
Last Tuesday (April 27, 2020), I grabbed my radio gear and my boots then headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a quick morning activation.
There were three factors motivating me: 1.) the weather was amazing 2.) I had three free hours in my schedule and 3.) I was eager to pair the LDG Z-100 ATU with the Icom IC-705 for the first time.
Hazel–my canine companion–was as eager to hit the field as I was.
When she heard me grab my boots, she met me at the door with tail wagging.
I did plan to hit the Blue Ridge Parkway, but had not decided on an actual site. The lowest hanging fruit (easiest sites to reach from the QTH) are the Folk Arts Center and the Blue Ridge Parkway Headquarters. I wanted more altitude, though, so we drove to the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area.
This is a favorite spot for our family, but this time of year can be quite busy–especially around noon. I hoped that I could beat the crowds by arriving early. We pulled into the parking lot around 9:00 AM and were one of the only cars there (score!).
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378 NC)
Hazel and I found a concrete picnic table overlooking the parking area and I quickly deployed the CHA Emcomm III Portable over a short tree with my arborist throw line. (Have I mentioned before how AMAZING an arborist throw line is? Why yes, I have!)
I made a video of the entire activation including pairing the Z-100 Plus ATU with the IC-705 via the supplied command cable. In true K4SWL style, I didn’t read the Z-100 Plus owner’s manual or connect the Z-100 Plus to the IC-705 prior to recording.
Frankly, I forgot to read the manual I wanted to show what it was like pairing the Z-100 Plus and IC-705 for the first time without having even referenced the manual. Fortunately, it couldn’t have been an easier process: connect the command cable, and go into the ATU function menu to activate the tuner.
I started my activation on 80 meters and–although the band was dead quiet–I worked K8RAT, WD8RIF, K4JAZ and ND1J in about six minutes.
Next, I moved up to 40 meters where I worked nine more stations in about thirteen minutes.
Finally, I moved to the 30 meter band where I worked two more stations in about five minutes.
One first for this activation was working K8RAT in north central Ohio on all three bands! His signal was incredibly weak on 30 meters, but I recognized his sideswiper “fist” or operating style.
At the end of the activation, I tested the Z-100 Plus by having it match the Emcomm III Portable random wire all the way up the band to 6 meters. It did a fine job.
No surprise here as the Z-100 Plus is a well-loved ATU that’s been on the market for quite some time already. At $150 it’s a proper bargain of an ATU. Unlike the mAT-705 Plus which only pairs with the IC-705, the Z-100 Plus is RF-sensing and can pair with any transceiver on the market.
Here’s a video of the entire activation including pairing the Z-100 Plus with the IC-705 for the first time:
Here’s a QSO map of the entire activation:
This was a very enjoyable activation at one of my favorite Blue Ridge Parkway picnic areas. It was especially pleasant to have the place all to ourselves–a true rarity! I think Hazel was a bit bummed that our local red squirrels (we call them “Boomers”) weren’t out in full force. They’re proper “Squirrel TV” for her since she must be on a leash on the parkway and can’t chase them as she does at home.
If you’re ever travelling the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is a great area. As I mention in the video, the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area also borders a vast tract of land–accessible by a forest service road on the site’s driveway–where the Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah Game Land overlap for a POTA two-fer (here’s a previous report including this two-fer).
Craggy Dome–a SOTA summit–is also very close by. In addition, Mount Mitchell State Park is only 20-25 north on the parkway and offers up both a POTA site and SOTA summit. So many possibilities on this part of the BRP! One could easily activate four parks and two summits in the space of a few hours.
On my way back to the QTH, April 21, 2021, I popped by Tuttle Educational State Forest for what I hoped would be a relatively quick activation.
The previous day I performed a SOTA activation of The Pinnacle and was still feeling the high from that brilliant solar flare propagation experience. Although I knew the solar flare effects were long gone over 24 hours later, I wanted to take in a quick hike and play a little radio: Tuttle was the perfect place for both.
Plus, Tuttle Educational State Forest is such a peaceful quiet place (that is, when no one is burning up rounds at the nearby shooting range). The park is never crowded and it has wide open spaces for playing radio.
My plan was to do a quick activation, then hit their longest trail loop through the forest.
In the spirit of full transparency, LDG sent this unit to me at no cost when they became a sponsor of the SWLing Post and QRPer.com recently (you may have noticed their ads in the right sidebar). While I was really curious how well the Z-100 Plus pairs with the Icom IC-705–using the supplied command cable–I didn’t have a (charged) IC-705 with me. Instead, I pulled out the trusty Yaesu FT-817ND and hit the air!
The Z-100 Plus is RF-sensing, so a command cable is never needed and the ATU will pair with any transceiver.
To use the Z-100 Plus with the FT-817ND, I only needed to hit the Tune button on the front of the ATU then send a string of dits or dashes for it to initiate a match search.
It was no surprise that the Z-100 Plus easily found matches with the Emcomm III Portable.
I started calling CQ on 80 meters and quickly worked my buddy WD8RIF in Ohio.
After a few minutes, I moved up to the 40 meter band where I worked four stations in about four minutes, then the band was quiet for a few minutes.
I then moved up to the 30 meter band and worked four more stations in about seven minutes then silence again.
At this point, I only needed one more contact to validate my POTA activation to have ten stations logged, so I moved up to the 20 meter band and in about four minutes worked two more.
If I didn’t have a limited amount of time and a strong desire to fit in a hike that afternoon, I might have called CQ a while longer on 20 meters and possibly even 17 meters, but I called QRT after a total of 36 minutes on the air.
Herein lies the advantage of having a portable ATU: it gives you frequency agility. On days when propagation is rough, and contact roll in slowly, a good ATU will allow you to find matches on multiple bands so your transceiver will be happy pushing RF through a non-resonant antenna length. I love resonant antennas, but it’s hard to beat the flexibility an ATU gives you.
[My next video, by the way, will feature the Z-100 Plus connected to the IC-705. ]
Here’s how my contacts looked that day on a QSOmap:
I was so busy making the activation video, I didn’t think about taking photos of my rig.
During the hike, however, I did snap these two:
It’s fun returning to the same parks and seeing how the flora changes with the seasons. There’s always something new to see.
I think the next time I activate Tuttle, it might be from the trail–I located a couple of spots that would be ideal for a park bench activation! That might make it feel a bit more like a SOTA activation (although, there are no summits in this forest).
Thanks again for reading through this activation report. Please comment with any questions or feedback. Very curious what LDG Z-100 Plus owners think of this ATU.