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.
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.
It’s funny: when I started my POTA journey in earnest during February 2020, I plotted out all of the state parks in the part of western North Carolina where I travel the most.
At the time, POTA had only a wee fraction of the community it does now and many of the parks and game lands were still ATNOs (All-Time New Ones)–parks that had never been activated. Fort Dobbs was still one, in fact, and I had marked it on my POTA game plan spreadsheet.
My mission back then was to rack up unique-to-me parks as I explored the region; in doing so, I ticked off quite a few ATNOs. It was fun!
I focused on parks a little further afield first. This provided me with a sense of adventure and travel during the first round of Covid-19 lockdowns.
At the end of 2020, I realized I had never activated Ft. Dobbs State Historic site which was, ironically, one of the lowest hanging fruit sites around. It’s only, perhaps, 30 minutes from where I travel each week.
I suppose Fort Dobbs has been “out of sight, out of mind” until I saw a tweet from Andrew (N4LAZ) who activated Dobbs on August 6, 2021. I mistakenly assumed that the only spots to set up on site were around the periphery of the parking lot. This time of year, in the middle of the hot and humid summer? I’m less enthusiastic about open parking lot activations.
Andrew mentioned that the site actually has an excellent covered picnic area where he was allowed to perform his activation.
That’s all I needed to know!
Fort Dobbs State Historic Site (K-6839)
On Tuesday, August 10, 2021, I traveled to Fort Dobbs State Historic Site and quickly found the covered picnic area Andrew had mentioned. It was, indeed, ideal for POTA!
I’m not a summer-heat-loving guy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Give me cold weather and I can hike and camp forever.
On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, it wasn’t cold outside, of course, but I still wanted to fit in a park activation and hike. Despite the forecast highs of 90F/32C. I had almost the entire day to play radio, too–a rarity.
When I have an entire day to devote to radio, I can either hit the road and try to hit multiple parks–perhaps as many as 5 or 6–or I can choose to venture further afield and hit a new-to-me park.
I tend to choose the latter and that Tuesday was no exception.
North and north by NW of Winston Salem, NC, are two parks I’ve always wanted to visit: Hanging Rock State Park and Pilot Mountain State Park.
I devised a plan to first visit Hanging Rock, then Pilot Mountain. Both parks are close together geographically, but a good 30 minutes drive apart.
A quick check of the SOTA database and I discovered that there are actually two summits on Hanging Rock State Park’s grounds. One is off the beaten path a bit and would require some light map work, and the other–Moore’s Knob–is on one of the park’s main trails. Since I was putting this whole plan together morning of, I opted for the “easy” summit as I didn’t have time to double-check topo maps, parking areas, etc.
Hanging Rock State Park (K-2735)
Travel time to Hanging Rock was about 1 hour 45 minutes. Once I arrived on site, I discovered that, like many state parks, the main visitor’s center is being renovated.
I easily found the parking area for the Moore’s Knob loop. It being a Tuesday, the parking lot only had a few cars.
Pro tip: with the visitor’s center out of commission, stop by the swimming area pavilion for some proper restrooms/washrooms!
I planned to take the full trail loop in a counter-clockwise direction.
I’m glad I did, too, as the bulk of the ascent was a long series of steps. I’m not a fan of steps, but I much prefer using them heading up a mountain rather than down.
Near the summit, there’s a very short spur trail to Balanced Rock which is worth a visit not only for the rock, but also the views.
It being a North Carolina state park, there are some obligatory warning signs about how falling off of cliffs can lead to injury or death. These warning signs aren’t as prominent as those at Crowders Mountain State Park, though!
Moores Knob (W4C/EP-001)
There’s no mistaking the summit as there’s a large observation tower on top that affords some spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, the foothills, and Pilot Mountain (my next stop). There were a number of hikers on the summit of Moore’s Knob and it was actually pretty gusty up there, too. I searched and found a nice little spot to set up that was sheltered from the wind, shaded, and even had trees tall enough to hang my Packtenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna!
Note: I brought the CHA MPAS Lite in case there were no good tree options on the summit.
Set up was quick and easy on the radio side of things, but as with most SOTA activations, positioning my tripod to make a video was the tricky part. Since I’m sitting on the ground, it can be difficult to find the right angle so that the radio, key, and notepad are all in the frame. (See my video below).
I started calling CQ at 16:00 UTC on 20 meters. I had a reasonable cell phone signal on the summit, so I was able to spot myself. Problem was, though, my hiking app seemed to be draining my iPhone’s battery very rapidly (that and my aging iPhone 7 probably needs a new battery at this point). After spotting myself, I shut down the phone to save power. I forgot to contact my buddy Mike (K8RAT) with a frequency, but he eventually saw me on the SOTA spots.
In a period of 29 minutes, I worked 20 stations on 20 meters.
Next, I moved up to 17 meters where I worked eight more stations in seven minutes.
I love effortless activations like this and part of me wanted to continue operating–even switching to SSB–but looking at the time, I knew I needed to hit the trail, make my way back to the car, and drive to Pilot Mountain.
I called QRT around 16:42 UTC and packed up my gear.
Not bad for 5 watts and a 31′ wire!
One highlight of this activation was meeting Jim (NA4J) who heard my CW from the summit and popped by to introduce himself. Although I trimmed out our conversation in the video (I’m not entirely sure he knew I was recording the activation), you’ll hear him in the first half of the activation.
Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation:
The hike back to the car was very pleasant. It was a bit longer than the path I took to the summit, but the descent had no steps which made it a breeze.
I had a radio topic on my mind during that hike and actually pulled out the OSMO Action camera and made a bit of a “hike and talk” video. It’s on the topic of ATUs and resonant vs non-resonant antennas. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll post it–the shaky camera might make some viewers sea sick! 🙂 We’ll see–maybe I’ll brave up and post it anyway…
Next, I drove to Pilot Mountain State Park for a quick afternoon activation. Although Pilot Mountain is a SOTA summit, too, it’s yet to be activated because the actual summit would require proper rock climbing, I believe.
As always, thank you for reading this field report! And thank you to everyone who has supported me through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. I truly appreciate it.
I hope you find time this week to take your radios outdoors to play, or to hunt some parks and summits from your shack, backyard or vacation spot!
And for those of you working on your CW skills, don’t give up and don’t stress about it. Take your time and allow your brain to absorb code by simply listening. When you feel you’re able to copy even some of the contacts in the videos of my activations, you’re ready to start hunting CW activators!
Of course, the benefit of camping at a state park is being able to play radio pretty much anytime while on the park grounds. For a few days, it’s like you’re living in a park activation and can actually set up an antenna and use it over the course of multiple days.
It’s such a big departure from my typically short (45-90 minute) park activations.
When we first arrived at the New River State Park campground, I deployed my PackTenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna.
I brought two transceivers with me: the Xeigu X5105 and the Discovery TX-500–I pretty much split my operating the time equally between the two radios.
New River State Park (K-2748)
Although I spent much more time on the air than I normally do, I didn’t make videos of each session. One reason is I wanted to operate with earphones–especially since some of my sessions were later in the evening or early in the morning. I didn’t want to disturb my neighbors at the campground.
That and, especially with the X5105, I wanted to see what it would be like to operate with earphones for extended sessions. Prior to making videos of my activations, I almost exclusively used earphones in the field. I appreciate the sound isolation earphones offer–I also find they help tremendously with weak signal work. When I make videos, however, I don’t want to go through the hassle of recording the line-out audio separately in order to use headphones, so I use an external speaker.
I decided to record my Wednesday, June 23, 2021 evening session with the Discovery TX-500.
This session started only a few minutes prior to the end of the UTC day which meant I had to watch the clock very carefully and clear my logs at the beginning of the UTC day (20:00 EDT).
In POTA and other field activities, if your activation straddles the UTC day change, you must keep in mind that any contacts made after 0:00 UTC can only be counted on the next day’s logs. This was not a problem for me because I had logged dozens of stations earlier in the day, but if you ever start an activation close to the UTC day change, you need to make sure you log your 10 contacts for a valid activation prior to 0:00 UTC.
Another thing complicating my sessions at New River State Park was that I chose not to schedule my activation via the POTA website prior to our trip.
If you schedule your activation via the POTA website, anytime the Reverse Beacon Network picks up your CQ calls (in CW), the POTA spots website will scrape that information and auto-spot you. It’s an amazing convenience for those of us who operate CW.
I chose not to schedule my activation days at New River because I had also planned to operate at another nearby park during my stay and I didn’t want the system to spot me incorrectly. That, and I thought I would have mobile phone coverage to self-spot.
It turned out that–contrary to my mobile phone company’s coverage maps–I had no internet service at the park. None.
In order to get spotted, I relied on my Garmin InReach GPS/satellite device to send short text messages to my buddies Mike (K8RAT) and Eric (WD8RIF). My pre-formatted message would prompt them to check the RBN for my frequency, then spot me to the POTA site manually.
I’m incredibly grateful to have had them helping me in the background. Everyone should have a Mike and Eric as friends!
I made a real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation. Note that it took a while to get spotted, so the first ten minutes are simply me talking (it’s alright to skip that bit…it won’t hurt my feelings!).
Also, here’s a QSO map of that day’s contacts. Note that this includes stations I logged later in the UTC day (i.e. the following morning/day.
Due to some unexpected conflicts, our camping trip was shorter than we would have liked. We plan to visit New River later this year and spend much more time there. It’s a beautiful park!
Thanks for reading this short field report and here’s hoping you get a chance to play radio in the field soon!