Mid-Week QRP-Portable Fix

My free time has been somewhat limited lately, so I’ve been itching to get out for some QRP-portable operating.  A rare mid-week opportunity presented itself, so I decided to take a quick bike ride and make a few ham radio contacts while I was out.

I threw some radio gear into my pannier bags and headed out on the Schuylkill River and Perkiomen trails.  Before heading back, I made a stop at Lower Perkiomen Valley Park.  There weren’t many people around on a Wednesday morning.

My first attempt to put a line into a tree got some great elevation but I missed my target branch completely.  My second attempt caught a lower branch.  Since I was limited on time, I decided to go with that.  My 30-foot wire ended up as a sloper.  I used my bike as a tie-off for my halyard and attached my 9:1 unun to one of the handlebars.

My operating location along the Perkiomen Trail
My operating location along the Perkiomen Trail

I tuned around 30 meters and heard Roger KO5Q calling CQ from Georgia.  We chatted for a few minutes but there was some deep fading on the band.  Roger said my signal came up to 599 for a bit and faded quickly.

I moved up to 20 meters and called CQ.  Enzo VE3VTG called me from the Toronto area.  He had a great signal.  If I copied correctly, he said he was running 2 watts into a beam.

After that, I packed up the bike for the ride back to the trailhead.  The beautiful weather and a couple of QRP-portable contacts were enough to tide me over until the QRP Skeeter Hunt this weekend.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Flight of the Bumblebees 2016

Another Flight of the Bumblebees (FOBB) is in the books.  This year, I was going to travel to my operating site by bicycle but forecasts for thunderstorms forced a last-minute change of plans.

I ended up in French Creek State Park (PA) near the Hopewell Fire Tower.  This area has good elevation and there usually aren’t many other visitors around.  Dark clouds were moving in, so I opted to set up in the shelter of an old picnic pavilion.  Fortunately, the storm skirted around my location.

Pavilion near the Hopewell Fire Tower, French Creek State Park, PA.
My operating location near the Hopewell Fire Tower in French Creek State Park (PA)

I kept my antenna simple, in case I needed to bail out in a hurry.  I strapped my 31-foot Jackite pole to a small tree next to the pavilion and set up a 30-foot wire vertical with a 9:1 unun.  I ran 18 feet of coax over to one of the picnic tables.  I had my KX3 set up and ready to go about five minutes before the contest started.

My antenna support. I strapped my Jackite pole to a small tree near the pavilion.
My antenna support. I strapped my Jackite pole to a small tree near the pavilion.

Conditions were pretty rough.  There was heavy fading on 20 meters and lots of static on 40 meters.  Early on, most of the activity was on 20 meters but 40 meters started to come alive later on.

Despite the conditions, I managed to eek out 19 contacts in about 3 hours.  I heard a lot of familiar callsigns.  I was pleasantly surprised to work N6GA, Cam, in California.  I guess my simple antenna was getting out OK.  I also worked fellow Polar Bear QRPer, Kelly K4UPG in Florida.  In addition to the contest exchange, Kelly and I exchanged the traditional Polar Bear greeting, “GRRR.” Right before I packed up, I found QRP friends, Larry W2LJ and Carter N3AO, on 40 meters.

My operating position for Flight of the Bumblebees 2016
My operating position for Flight of the Bumblebees 2016

It turned out to be a pretty nice day.  The thunderstorms stayed away and not a drop of rain.  I was in the shade and there was just enough of a breeze to make the heat and humidity bearable and keep the mosquitoes at bay.  Thanks to the Adventure Radio Society for sponsoring this fun contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK

White Clay Creek Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoBoy, the state of Delaware sure has been good to me this week.  After my failed attempt at activating the Captain John Smith Trail (TR21) in Maryland, I rebounded the other day with great activation at First State NHP (HP12) in Delaware two days later.  I had an even better activation in Delaware today along the White Clay Creek National Wild and Scenic River (WR39).

This morning I drove down to the White Clay Creek Nature Center near Newark, Delaware.  (Thanks to N2CX for recommending this spot.)  I headed to the side of the parking lot closest to the creek and parked under a large shady tree.  Despite the heat wave we’re experiencing, I had a nice breeze through the truck for the first hour and a half or so.  It took about five minutes to set up my 30-foot vertical and KX3.

My "stationary-mobile" set up. The antenna is a 30-foot vertical wire supported by a Jackite pole and fed through a 9:1 unun.
My “stationary-mobile” set up. The antenna is a 30-foot vertical wire supported by a Jackite pole and fed through a 9:1 unun.

I got off to a slow start on 40 meters but once I got spotted, things picked up in a hurry and stayed busy for the next hour.  Propagation on 40 meters was interesting; I worked a lot of Pennsylvania and New Jersey stations with the vertical and then worked Florida.  Go figure.

I was getting ready to take a break before changing bands when a park ranger approached my truck.  Apparently, someone reported some suspicious activity in the Nature Center’s parking lot.  I explained to her what I was doing and what National Parks on the Air was all about.  She was very nice and said she would be back if the Park had any problems with what I was doing.  She never came back.

White Clay Creek
White Clay Creek

I spent another hour working stations on 20 meters before packing up.    I ended the day with 58 QSOs in the log, including a park-to-park QSO with N2CX at AA17 in New Jersey.  I took a walk around the Nature Center before heading back to Pennsylvania.  I need to do a non-radio visit here sometime to explore more of the park.

Obligatory selfie at White Clay Creek State Park Nature Center
Obligatory selfie

So, I had a couple of fun activations this week and one not-so-good one.  As the singer, Meatloaf, would say:  “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

72, Craig WB3GCK

First State NHP Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoAfter my last activation, I sure needed a day like today.  During my last outing just about everything that could go wrong did.  Thankfully, my activation today went off without a hitch.

I made the 45-minute trip down to First State National Historical Park in Delaware and set up in the parking lot of the Smith Bridge Picnic Area along Brandywine Creek.  (Thanks to Joe, N2CX, for recommending this location.)  I operated from inside my truck using a KX3 at 5 watts.  My antenna was a 30-ft vertical fed through a 9:1 unun with 18 feet of coax.  The Jackite pole was mounted on my bike rack mount.

Obligatory selfie at First State National Historical Park
Obligatory selfie at First State National Historical Park

I operated for about two hours and the bands seemed to be in decent shape.  Splitting my time between 40 and 20 meters, I wound up with 45 contacts in my log.  I hit the west coast 3 times and worked quite a few ham radio friends.

My antenna drew a lot of attention today.  Several people came up to me to ask about the 31-foot pole.  A few times, it happened while I was sorting through pileups.  One fellow couldn’t believe ham radio still existed.  Another said, “No wonder you use ham radio; the cell phone coverage around here is lousy.”

My antenna drew the attention of several passersby.
My antenna drew the attention of several passersby.

I’m going to attempt one more activation this week.  I hope it goes as well as today.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Captain John Smith Trail Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoIt had been a while since I did a National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activation,  so I decided to activate the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (TR21).  The Captain John Smith Trail is a water trail that includes the Susquehanna River up to the Conowingo Dam.  Since I’m a member of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, I thought I would explore the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail and activate TR21 somewhere along the way.  Despite my best efforts, things didn’t go as well as I had planned.

After suffering through a huge traffic jam due to a downed tree on a major highway, I arrived at the trailhead later than planned.  As I pulled into Fisherman’s Park just below the Conowingo Dam, I was greeted by a large group of vultures.  I think they foreshadowed the type of outing I was about to have.

A group of vultures at Fisherman's Park
On arrival, I was greeted by a large group of vultures. An omen, perhaps?

I unloaded my bike and headed out down the trail.   During my ride, I scouted out potential operating locations along the trail.  The pickings were slim.  For most of its 2.5-mile length, the trail parallels the Susquehanna River.  There is a very dense tree canopy over the trail.  On one side of the trail, there’s a sharp drop-off  down to the river.  The inland side of the trail is mostly wetlands.  I found a picnic table off to the side of the trail and stopped there on the ride back.

Remnants of the old railway along the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail. The railway was used to transport materials when the Conowingo Dam was under construction.
Remnants of the old railway along the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail. The railway was used to transport materials when the Conowingo Dam was under construction.

The temperature today was in the low 90s but it was comfortable while I was riding.  Once I stopped, though, the humidity under the dense tree canopy was unbearable.  I decided to ride back to the trailhead and operate from the parking lot.

This is where I had originally planned to operate along the trail.
This is where I had originally planned to operate along the trail.

I parked in the only shady spot I could find and set up my trusty 29.5-foot vertical.  My chosen spot had three major problems:  1) The shade was only short-lived, 2) the noise levels were very high,  and, 3) there was a steep hill behind me.  Undeterred, I started out on 40 meters and immediately got a call from  a station in South Carolina.  I continued to call CQ with no takers.  After that, I switched back and forth between 40 and 20 but no luck.  I made some changes to my antenna but still no luck.

My eventual operating location. Notice the receding shade and the large hill behind me.
My eventual operating location. Notice the receding shade and the large hill behind me.

The heat was starting to become too much for this old man.  My cell phone was overheating and going into some sort of self-protection mode.  Even though my KX3 was only set for 5 watts, it started feeling a bit warm.  On top of that, some biting flies decided to have lunch inside my truck and I was the main course.   After an hour or so, I had enough and packed up.  I waved goodbye to my vulture friends and headed home.

The Conowingo Dam
The Conowingo Dam

Although it wasn’t a successful NPOTA activation, I at least had a nice bike ride on an interesting trail.  I didn’t make the minimum number of contacts for a valid activation but, then again, I didn’t get skunked.   I’ll have to give TR21 another try later this year.  Next time, I’ll move further downstream from the hydroelectric plant.

I plan to do two more activations this week.  Hopefully, my luck will be better.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

Backyard-Portable in Central PA

My XYL and I spent the weekend with our daughter and her family near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  I spent most of my time enjoying the company of my grandson but I did manage to get on the air for a bit this afternoon.

I set up my KX3 and AlexLoop antenna out in the backyard at the picnic table.  Since the Straight Key Century Club’s Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest was going on, I hooked up my little MS2 straight key to make a few contacts.

Operating “backyard-portable” near Harrisburg, PA (Photo by Amy Duchesne)
Operating “backyard-portable” near Harrisburg, PA (Photo by Amy Duchesne)

This was my first time using the AlexLoop with my KX3 and it worked well.  Operating “search and pounce” during a contest was tricky with the AlexLoop but not impossible.  I just tuned the KX3 about 500Hz off of the station I wanted to work, tuned the loop and then moved back to the station’s frequency.

I worked a half-dozen SKCC stations from Maine to Florida and as far west as Missouri.  The last QSO was with W3CEI.  His signal was so strong I had to turn the KX3’s preamp off and kick in the attenuator.  As it turns out, Larry was only a half mile away or so from me.  That was my big DX contact of the day!

It was a short outing but it was a beautiful day to be out playing radio under a shady tree.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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