Holiday Weekend Bike Ride

For a long, holiday weekend, it’s been pretty busy around here.  I managed to get in a bike ride this morning on the nearby Perkiomen Trail.

On my way back to the trailhead, I stopped for a brief QRP session.  I tossed a line up over an opportune branch and hoisted up a 29.5-foot wire.  It wasn’t the highest branch but it let me operate under a shady tree.  I laid another 29.5-foot wire out on the ground for a counterpoise.  I’ve had very good success with this configuration on many occasions, while feeding it through a 4:1 unun.  Today, I tried attaching the wires directly to my KX3 using a BNC-to-binding post adapter.  The KX3 managed to tune it with an SWR less than 2:1 on 40 and 30 meters.  On 20 meters, however, I couldn’t get it below 5:1.  So, I quickly hooked up the 4:1 unun and about 6 feet of coax.

Once again, I pressed my bike into service as an antenna support. One handlebar grip has a 4:1 unun attached to it. The other grip is where I tied off the line used to hoist the antenna.
Once again, I pressed my bike into service as an antenna support. One handlebar grip has a 4:1 unun attached to it. The other grip is where I tied off the line used to hoist the antenna.

Not hearing much activity on 20 meters, I tuned around 30 meters and heard W9CBT calling CQ from the Chicago area.  The QSB was bad and we just couldn’t complete the QSO.

My station setup today. The food storage container houses LiFePO4 battery.
My station setup today. The food storage container houses LiFePO4 battery.

Down on 40 meters, I had a quick exchange with K2D in Connecticut, one of the 13 Colonies special event stations.  I called CQ on 7.030 and wound up having a nice two-way QRP QSO with John, W3FSA, in Portland, Maine.  We managed to hang in there despite some deep fading at times.

After that, I quickly packed up and rode the last few miles back to the trailhead.  The weather was perfect and I would have liked to stay longer.  However, I needed to get home to put some ribs on the smoker.  I have my priorities in order!

I wish all of my U.S. ham friends a happy and safe 4th of July.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Field Day 2016

Boschveldt QRP Club patchAnother Field Day is in the books.  This year, as in past years, I operated with the Boschveldt QRP Club.  The Boschveldt QRP Club is a small, informal group of QRPers who share a love of portable QRP operating.  Basically, we get together twice each year.  In January, we converge on a cabin in the Delaware Water Gap.  In June, of course, we get together for Field Day.

Our Field Day site was a group tenting site in French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania.  Our Field Day crew consisted of Ed WA3WSJ, Glen NK1N, Ed K3YTR, Ron WA8YIH and me.  After arriving on Friday afternoon and setting up our tents, we headed into town for dinner.  After that, we set up a few antennas and it was soon time to get a campfire going.

WB3GCK CW tent
WB3GCK CW tent

After breakfast on Saturday, we finished setting up the radio equipment.  After a lunch of cheddar-stuffed bratwursts cooked over a fire, we drove over to visit with members of the Pottstown Amateur Radio Club (PARC) who were operating from another site in the park.  We got back to our site in time for the start of Field Day.

Ed WA3WSJ operating from a chair instead of his usual pedestrian-mobile operating
Ed WA3WSJ operating from a chair instead of his usual pedestrian-mobile operating

Once again, we operated class 4AB (QRP) using our club callsign, W3BQC.  I ran a CW station on 40 and 80 meters.  NK1N operated CW on 20 meters and SSB on 40 meters.  WA8YIH operated SSB on 20 meters and up, while WA3WSJ ran CW on 15 meters and up.  K3YTR operated 6 and 2 meters SSB.

Glen NK1N operating SSB on 40 meters
Glen NK1N operating SSB on 40 meters

Now I have to point out that the Boschveldt QRPers run a very informal Field Day.  In fact, we probably spend as much time socializing as we spend operating.  When the sun goes down, things come to a halt.  We gather around the campfire to relax and just enjoy being outdoors.  One of our traditions is roasting marshmallow Peeps® over the campfire.

Ron WA8YIH working 20 meters SSB
Ron WA8YIH working 20 meters SSB

This year we had a large group of Boy Scouts camped across the road from us.  A few of them stopped by Saturday night for a ham radio demonstration by WA8YIH.

Ed K3YTR operating on 6 meters and 2 meters from his car
Ed K3YTR operating on 6 meters and 2 meters from his car

Our logs haven’t been consolidated yet but I’m guessing we had something like 300 contacts between the five of us.  Although band conditions weren’t all that great, the weather was a lot better than the rain we had last year.

I always enjoy getting together with the Boschveldt guys for Field Day.  We’ve already started planning our January trip.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Perkiomen Trail Ride

I took advantage of some great weather this morning to get in a bike ride at one of my favorite places to ride.  The Perkiomen Trail is a nicely paved, multi-use trail that parallels the scenic Perkiomen Creek.  I did an 8-mile out-and-back ride this morning.  On the way back, I stopped in the Lower Perkiomen Valley Park to do a little QRP-portable.

I was using another experimental antenna today.  I figured my short 19-foot vertical would do reasonable well on the higher bands and would at least be somewhat usable on 40 meters.  The KX3 had no problems loading it up from 40 through 6 meters.  A quick check of the Reverse Beacon Network showed more spots on 40 meters than the higher bands.  That seemed to track with what the Band Conditions website was showing at the time.  With the deep QSB on the bands, I really couldn’t tell how well the antenna was working.

My operating position along the Perkiomen Trail
My operating position along the Perkiomen Trail

On 30 meters, I heard WB8AJR calling CQ from Akron, Ohio.  It took a few tries for him to get my callsign and we struggled to exchange our basic information.  His signal was ranging from a solid 579 down to barely perceivable.  So, I’m sure my 5 watts and short vertical dropped out completely when the band dipped.

On 40 meters, I faintly heard N2CX coming on the air for an NPOTA activation.  I tried calling a few times with no success.  After a few minutes, lots of chasers started showing up and I moved on.

Up on 20 meters, I heard Paul W0RW calling CQ with a special event callsign, W7L.  After several calls, I think he recognized my callsign.  He gave me a 339.  He was about the same but the QSB was very deep on 20 meters.  It didn’t sound like he got my information.  [Update:  Paul emailed me the next day saying I made it into his W7L log.]

The nice part about combining ham radio with cycling is that when the bands aren’t cooperating, I at least get some nice scenery and a little exercise.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Horse-Shoe Trail Bike Ride

I headed out this morning with the dual purposes of getting in a bike ride and doing a little portable QRP operating.  My destination was a 3-mile section of the historic Horse-Shoe Trail that runs through Warwick County Park.

I had never been on this section of the trail before, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  It’s a beautiful trail and very well maintained.  The stone and sometimes rocky surface was better suited for a mountain bike.  My old hybrid bike was able to handle it with no problems, though.  At the bottom of a rocky hill, I came across an open field and decided to set up the radio there.

Operating from the Horse-Shoe Trail Field North.
Operating from the Horse-Shoe Trail Field North.

I set up an experimental antenna that uses a compact 20-foot telescopic pole I picked up recently on eBay.  It’s basically a variation of the Rybakov Vertical with a 25-foot wire fed through a 4:1 unun.  I laid out one 25-foot radial on the ground.  I mounted the pole by simply placing it over a screwdriver shoved into the ground.  Since the wire is longer than the pole, I attached the unun to the bike’s handlebar and ran a short coax down to my KX3.  The KX3’s ATU matched it easily from 40 through 10 meters.

My operating position
My operating position

I called CQ on 20 meters and had a nice chat with Lynn, NG9D, near Chicago.  I think he thought I was crazy using an untested antenna out on a trail.  (I had a backup!)

Moving down to 30 meters, I worked Mike, W9KY, in Indianapolis.  I finished up on 40 meters with a short 2-way QRP QSO with Jack, WD4E, in North Carolina and a nice QSO with NY2MC aboard the USS Ticonderoga in Whitehall, NY.  I did a little more experimenting with the antenna before packing up the bike for the ride back.

My trusty bike loaded up on the ride back to the trailhead
My trusty bike loaded up on the ride back to the trailhead

As I expected, this antenna isn’t a real barn burner on 40 meters but it seems to work well enough for casual operating.  The pole weighs about 12 ounces and collapses down to about 26 inches, making it easy to transport via bike or backpack.   I definitely need to make some refinements to the antenna, though.  If it works out, it will be the subject of a future post.

It was a nice morning in a beautiful park.  I’m looking forward to exploring some of the other trails.

72, Craig WB3GCK

International Field Radio Event Recap

I operated in the first-ever International Field Radio Event on May 28th.  (See my earlier post for information on this event.)  A few days before the event, I decided to operate near the Hopewell Fire Tower in French Creek State Park.  The day before the event, my XYL and two of our grandchildren accompanied me on a hike to scout out operating locations.  I found a small clearing in the woods near the fire tower.  It was off the beaten path and looked like it would work out for me.

Hopewell Fire Tower
Hopewell Fire Tower

The next day I got off to an early start and headed back to the little clearing.  There wasn’t enough room to toss a line up in a tree, so I used two Velcro® straps to secure my 31-foot Jackite pole to a tree.  I set up a 29.5-foot vertical wire supported by the pole and laid out two radials on the ground.  I fed the antenna through a 4:1 unun and a short length of coax.  I set up my KX3 on a small table near the tree and was soon ready to get started.

My operating position for the International Field Radio Event.
My operating position for the International Field Radio Event.

It was tough going for this event.  Band conditions were less than stellar and 20 meters was wall-to-wall with CQ WW WPX CW Contest stations.  I spent my time searching for other Field Radio Event stations, both CW and (gulp) SSB.  After a few hours, I only had 3 CW contacts on 30 meters in my log.  None of them were Field Radio stations.  One was a National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activation in Kentucky and the other two were rag chews with stations in Florida and Michigan.

WB3GCK hard at work searching for other Field Radio Event stations
WB3GCK hard at work searching for other Field Radio Event stations

One pleasant surprise was an eyeball QSO with Jerry K3BZ.  Jerry was walking near my location and noticed me back in the woods.  He stopped by to say hello and introduce himself.  After chatting with Jerry for a bit, I packed up and headed home.

I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t work any other Field Radio Event stations.  On the Field Radio group page on Facebook, many other stations reported similar disappointing results.  There is talk about conducting another International Field Radio Event later this year.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed that band conditions will be better and that there won’t be a major contest going on that weekend.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

International Field Radio Event

IFR LogoI’m looking forward to participating in the first ever International Field Radio Event this weekend.  The event is sponsored by the Field Radio Facebook group and runs from 0000Z to 2359Z on May 28th, 2016.  Field Radio is an international group of amateur radio operators who practice and enjoy portable operations.

The goal of the event is simple:  Get out in the field and contact other Field Radio members, while letting other hams know about the group.  More than 200 hams from around the world have signed up to take part.  Registered Field Radio members will be exchanging ID numbers assigned for the event.  You don’t need to be a member to join in, though.  Feel free to work any of the portable stations calling, “CQ IFR.”

I haven’t yet decided where I’ll be operating on Saturday but I will likely be out operating from 1300Z to 1800Z.  I will most likely be on 40, 30, 20, and 17 meters CW.

So, if you hear any of the International Field Radio event participants on Saturday, give them a call.  I’m sure many of them will be operating from some interesting locations.

For more information on the Field Radio group, visit www.fieldradio.org.

72, Craig WB3GCK

A Brief Break in the Weather

I was itching to get out for some portable operating but the weather this weekend had been pretty lousy.  I checked the weather radar this morning and saw that there was some clearing coming.  I figured I had a couple of hours before the next band of rain moved in.

I threw my backpack into my truck and headed out to nearby Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.  Given the dreary weather, there was no one in the picnic area.  I headed for a picnic table that I had used once before and set up my equipment.

This was the first outing for my new KX3 and I was using a new LiFePO4 battery for the first time.  I connected a straight key with the hope of making a few Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) contacts.  I strapped my 31-foot Jackite pole to a wooden sign post and strung up a 30-foot vertical wire fed through a 9:1 unun.

My setup at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. The food storage container is holding a 6 A-H LiFePO4 battery.
My setup at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. The food storage container is holding a 6 A-H LiFePO4 battery.

There wasn’t a lot of activity on the bands.  I eventually had a 2-way QRP SKCC QSO on 20 meters with K4ARQ in Florida.  That turned out to be my only QSO today.  I had a couple of “almost” QSOs that were either disrupted by QSB or QRM.  In particular, NP3CW in Puerto Rico heard me calling CQ on 17 meters and gave me a call.  As soon as I answered, a station in Mexico came on frequency and started calling CQ.  A few other SKCC members attempted QSOs with me but propagation just wasn’t working in my favor today.

Dark clouds starting rolling in, so I packed up and headed back to my truck.  My timing was excellent; it started raining on my drive home.

It wasn’t the greatest field trip I’ve had but it was a good practice session with the KX3.

72, Craig WB3GCK