On Sunday, February 19, 2023, I felt like I was moving in slow motion.
The previous day started early and I fit in a long hike, a SOTA/POTA activation, and a second park activation. Round trip driving time was about four hours, but it was worth it. I had an amazing time. Those field reports will be posted in the upcoming week.
The previous evening, I also participated in a live stream and after hours chat with Josh (KI6NAZ) on his amazing Ham Radio Crash Course channel. It was loads of fun, but I was up pretty late after a long day.
Sunday morning, I was feeling it and couldn’t decide if I wanted to do a POTA activation on the drive back to the QTH. In case I decided to, early that morning, I scheduled an activation at Table Rock Fish Hatchery with a very wide activation window. I often don’t have enough mobile phone service to self-spot at that particular site, so I decided that if I was able to make the activation, it would cover me.
I wasn’t even ten minutes into the drive home when I decided to go for the Table Rock activation, of course! I seem to never be too tired for some POTA!
I did make up my mind in advance to try to activate the park on 17 meters because 1.) there was a CW contest that weekend, and 2.) I wanted a more laid-back activation instead of a pileup. I figured 17 meters would have some activity, but not to the degree of the non-WARC bands.
Table Rock State Fish Hatchery (K-8012)
I decided to record the entire activation from set-up to pack-up so I grabbed the action camera from my radio bag in the passenger’s seat and started recording as I pulled into the site.
I had a lot of gear in the trunk/boot of my car–more than normal–because I brought along quite a few radio packs to show on the HRCC live stream for this trip.
I grabbed the Penntek TR-45L and PackTenna random wire. I thought they would pair nicely for a casual POTA activation.
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.”
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.
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.
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→
Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following field report:
Recipe for a Failed Activation at K-0619?
by Brian (K3ES)
A couple of days before Christmas, high winds came, temperatures dropped, and 3 inches of snow made a real nuisance of itself by blowing around and re-covering anything that was swept or shoveled. With daily high temperatures below zero (Fahrenheit) and wind gusts over 40 miles per hour, the weather just didn’t make for much fun outdoors. In fact, we hunkered down and didn’t get beyond the end of the driveway for four days. So when the winds calmed and temperatures rose, I really needed to get out of the house for a bit. What better way than to walk up the road and activate K-0619? Even with temperatures in the low 20s, I should be able to finish a quick activation. And so it was planned…
Of course just before walking out the door, it is always prudent to check on band conditions…
Alright, I really need my outdoor time. Even if it means that I fail to activate the park this time, I’m going for it!!!
I’d like to start this field report with a side story. I’ll keep this reader anonymous since I haven’t asked for permission to post his story (although I’m certain he wouldn’t mind!):
A QRP Christmas Gift
Yesterday, I was contacted by a reader who had just received an amazing gift.
On Christmas morning, his wife presented him with a tiny wrapped box and inside there was a small note:
“Get yourself a great field radio. You have Carte Blanche!”
What an amazing gift…right–?! She literally said Carte Blanche!
Evidently, she is familiar with my YouTube channel (poor thing) because he often watches my activation videos on their living room TV. [Between us, I’m a bit surprised she still loves him after subjecting her to my videos.]
She told him, “Run your choice by Thomas before ordering.”
The funny bit? He approached me with this very question in November as he plotted a 2023 radio purchase. He couldn’t decide between the Icom IC-705 and the Elecraft KX2.
The KX2 is back-ordered due to parts availability, so he won’t receive his unit for several months, most likely.
Based on his operating style, I think he chose wisely. The IC-705 is a benchmark field radio, but he was looking for something that he could pair with a random wire antenna (the ‘705 lacks an internal ATU) and that would be easy to use on SOTA activations. He’s new to CW as well and loved the fact that the KXPD2 paddles attach to the front of the KX2.
Why do I mention this story? Because it’s not only fresh on my mind, but it’s the same radio and antenna I used during an activation on Thursday, December 1, 2022.
Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)
As I pulled into Tuttle’s parking area that day I had a tried-and-true field radio kit pairing in my pack: my Elecraft KX2 and PackTenna 9:1 Random Wire antenna.
As I mention at the start of my activation video (see below), with the Elecraft KX2 and a random wire, I could easily activate all of the summits, parks, and islands I desire. It’s such an effective, flexible, and portable combo.
To shake things up, I decided to knock the output power of the KX2 down to one half of one watt–500 milliwatts–at least for the CW portion of my activation.
Many thanks to Rich (KQ9L) for sharing the following field report:
Triple Activation Day
by Rich (KQ9L)
I decided to build on the momentum and lessons learned from my last two POTA outings and yesterday [October 29, 2022] completed x3 Activations in one day— a first for me. I wrote a brief description of the day and I hope you enjoy reading about the activations.
Well the weather has been pretty good here in Chicago and Old Man Winter hasn’t made it around to these parts yet and being on a POTA kick lately, I decided see if I could complete several activations in one day. Previously I had completed x2 in one day, but felt that after all that I learned from my last couple activations, I should practice what I learned and go for three.
In my area, there are several POTA sites, but one area to the south of me seemed to be the best location to accomplish my goal. The area has a unique geographic feature and historically interesting landmark which added to the lure of the area. The region centers around the Illinois and Michigan Canal.
Here is a quick history lesson courtesy of Wikipedia:
The Illinois and Michigan canal was build in 1848 and served as a connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Running 96 miles, it connects Bridgeport in Chicago to LaSalle-Peru. Why was this important? This connect helped establish Chicago as the transportation hub of the US and linked by water the East coast to the Mississippi River and from there the Gulf of Mexico. Before the railroad era in the US, this water way dominated transportation.
Along the canal are numerous little hamlets and one in particular, Morris, Illinois had x3 State Parks all within about a 5 mile radius. Perfect!
First stop was Gebhard Woods State Part (K-0995). The park is only 30 acres, but affords activities for hikers, fisherman, campers and picnickers. There is even an eBike rental facility so the park has broad appeal to many people, including hams!
I arrived pretty much right after sunrise and was greeted by fog and a thin layer of frost on the grass and picnic tables. Though beautiful this frost and fog, did not make for a fun activation. Temps were in the upper 30’s F, but with the fog the air felt damp and overall much cooler.
I hurriedly set up my PackTenna 9:1 antenna on my collapsible mast and leaned it up against a nearby tree. I had a separate counterpoise and feed line with a choke built into it…more on this later.
Stealthy field activations, for me, aren’t about activating where I shouldn’t (in fact, by definition, activations can only take place on public lands) it’s just fun!
As I’ve mentioned before, when I choose to be a bit stealthy, it’s strategic. I consider one of the privileges of doing POTA and SOTA activations is that I’m often the first ham others encounter out in the wild. It gives activators like me a chance to be a ham radio ambassador. I like giving our wonderful past time a proper introduction and even enticing others to join in on the fun.
That said, there are times when my on-the-air time is very limited and I want fewer interruptions. That’s when being a bit stealthy can help me get in/out quickly.
It simply attracts less attention.
I tend to be less conspicuous in a park when I’m in a busy area with lots of people and activity. I don’t want my operation to get in the way of others’ enjoyment of a park. I don’t want someone to trip on or get tangled up in my wire antenna while tossing a frisbee, for example.
Also, when it’s super busy and I’m pressed for time, I’d rather get the activation done and then move on.
If you’ve been following my field reports and activation videos, you’ll note that I’m almost twomonths behind posting them at present.
Much of this is due to the fact that I made numerous activations during a camping trip at New River State Park with my family in April and many more activations during a camping trip with WD8RIF and KD8KNC in West Virginia in May.
May was an extremely busy month for me family-wise and I was fitting in Canadian Basic Exam prep during any free time I had because my goal was to write the Canadian Basic exam within the first few days of arriving in Canada.
Looking at my field report back log, I’ve got a few more reports from both the NC and WV camping trips, but I’ve decided to put them on hold for a bit so that I can post more recent ones. Plus, it might be fun posting late spring field reports this fall!
One of the things I love about writing these field reports is re-living the activation.
We began our road trip to Canada on the morning of June 15, 2022.
Our first stop would be Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, the second stop Ottawa, Ontario (for three nights), and then our final destination of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Québec. All in all, we’d log 1,306 miles/2,102 km not including side trips.
Although I sort of fantasize about all of the amazing parks I could activate during our travels north, in reality this road trip was all about reaching the destination in fairly short order to save on hotel expenses en route.
The first leg of the trip equated to a good 10 hours on the road including stops to refuel, stretch our legs, and grab a bite to eat.
That first day, I’d completely written off the idea of performing a POTA activation assuming we’d arrive in Pine Grove, PA too late and too tired.
Turns out, though, we got an earlier start than we had anticipated, so arrived in Pine Grove around 16:00 local. That afternoon, everyone was eager to take a stroll or hike to shake off all of those hours of sitting in the car.
I checked my POTA Map and then cross-referenced it with my All Trails app to find the closest park with proper hiking trails. Turns out Swatara State Park met both criteria and was a mere 8 minutes from our hotel. Woo hoo!
Honestly: Swatara couldn’t have been more convenient for us.
The weather in/around Québec City has been amazing lately; nice cool mornings and warm, clear days. I know this probably won’t last, so we’ve been taking advantage of it as much as possible (il faut en profiter, as francophones like to say).
Yesterday, we had a few errands to run in town: we needed to pick up some groceries, order a tarte au citron for my birthday (today!) from our favorite patisserie Pralines & Chocolatin Château-Richer, and yes, enjoy the great outdoors.
I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d be able to fit in an activation, but I tucked my KX2 radio pack in the car just in case. I didn’t take the camera because it was family time and if I managed an activation, I didn’t want to film it this time. That, and I have a huge backlog of activation videos I need to publish; I sidelined a lot of my field reports while studying for the Canadian Basic exam over the past month.
Le Domaine Maizerets (VE-5020)
We decided to hit one of our favorite little parks conveniently located on the east end of Québec City (Beauport): Le Domaine Maizerets.
We’ve been to this park a few times in the past to attend a Celtic festival and to meet with friends.
The grounds are beautiful and there are loads of foot paths.
I was a bit surprised it had never been activated because this is a very popular park and even has free entry with free parking.
Keeping it Stealthy
I decided I wanted to stay fairly low-profile while doing this activation. I wasn’t worried about permissions (families, friends and groups meet here for all sorts of activities) but I wanted to see just how stealthy I could be while operating from a park bench in a city park. I don’t get this opportunity a lot because, back home, I’m usually operating from rural state/national parka and in remote game lands.
We found a couple of benches at the edge of the park that very conveniently had perfect antenna trees behind them.
While no one was watching, I deployed the PackTenna 9:1 random wire antenna; the jacket on its radiator is black and simply disappears with trees and flora in the background.
The more conspicuous parts of the antenna–the feed point and RG-316–were tucked away behind the park bench.
My high-visibility arborist throw line was hidden behind the tree and out of sight from those walking on the footpath.
From the footpath, you couldn’t see the antenna, coax, nor the throw line unless you were looking for it.
From behind the bench, you could though; in the very unlikely event someone would have walked behind us, it was pretty conspicuous (always avoid antenna tripping points). That and my family would have warned anyone coming near.
The Elecraft KX2 was a natural choice for this activation: it’s all-in-one and incredibly compact. I can also operate it and log using the knee board Carolanne (N0RNM) kindly made for me last year. No picnic table needed.
Operating CW with earphones is insanely stealthy. A CW op makes almost no noise whatsoever.
One of my daughters (K4TLI) was kind enough to log for me on my Microsoft Surface Go (using N3FJP’s AC Log).
Here’s what I looked like to anyone passing by:
My wife (K4MOI) and other daughter (K4GRL) were on the bench next to us sketching and painting. We looked like any other family at the park simply enjoying the amazing weather.
On the air
This was only my third activation here in Canada using my new Canadian callsign: VY2SW.
I’m still getting use to sending the new call; it flows well for me, but my muscle memory keeps kicking in and I find myself accidentally sending K4SWL. 🙂
Since I’m in Québec but have a Prince Edward Island callsign, I do intermittently add a /VE2 to the end of my call. It’s a fistful (VY2SW/VE2) so I don’t use it with every exchange or CQ.
Conditions lately have been absolutely in the dumps and yesterday was no exception.
When a propagation path opened, it was great, but conditions were very unstable with severe QSB.
I spent the better part of an hour hopping between 30, 40, and 20 meters to scrape together enough contacts for a valid park activation.
40 meters was absolutely dead due to flaring. I tried hunting a few CW and SSB stations there, but if I could hear them, they were barely audible.
20 and 30 meters served me better, but the QSB was so deep and frequent, I had to repeat my exchange on a number of occasions. Some stations would call me with a 599+ signal and after my reply with signal report, they were then barely audible.
Still, I managed to snag my ten with a couple to spare. 🙂
Many thanks to all of you who waded through the ether to reach me on the other end.
It’s interesting looking at the QSO map post-activation. My best DX (EA4B) was easily the strongest station I worked with my 5 watts.
Click to enlarge the map:
This activation was so much fun.
Sure, contacts weren’t frequent but they were all meaningful and, frankly, none of us minded spending time outdoors on such a gorgeous day! It added an extra dimension keeping things very stealthy, too.
Thanks for reading this field report. Now that my Canadian exam is in the books, I’ll have time to catch up on the numerous activation videos in the backlog!
Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support which allows me to open up my work life to write more field reports and film more activation videos.
I hope you get a chance this week to play radio outdoors or chase/hint some park, island, or summit activators!
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.