Fall Weekend Outings

I was long overdue for some portable QRP, so I went out twice over the weekend. As a bonus, we had some beautiful Fall weather here in southeastern Pennsylvania.

On Saturday, I headed up to my daughter’s property, intending to make some contacts in the Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. I used my TR-35 with my 19-foot vertical mounted on my truck. 

My hilltop location on Saturday
My hilltop location on Saturday

The bands, especially 20M, were in good shape, and I made a half-dozen SKCC contacts. There were a lot of Parks on the Air (POTA) activators, so I spent most of my time hunting them. The Pennsylvania QSO Party was also going on, and I logged a few of them, too. 

On Sunday, I went for a bike ride on the Schuylkill River Trail and stopped in a park for a little radio time. This time I used my newly acquired (tr)uSDX with my ground-mounted 19-foot vertical. 

My bike-portable setup on Sunday
My bike-portable setup on Sunday

The bench I was sitting on was getting full sun from time to time, which made reading the radio’s display a challenge. There were some loud signals on 20M that seemed to overload the radio’s front end. I could have used some attenuation, but, not being able to read the display clearly, I didn’t attempt to navigate the menus. (Note to self: Stay in the shade next time.) Despite these challenges, I logged three SKCC stations receiving good signal reports from each of them. 

Nothing really exciting this weekend, but it was great to get back out portable again. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Bike-Portable WES

I took advantage of the decent weather yesterday and went for a bike ride along the Schuylkill River Trail and the Perkiomen Trail. Along the way, I stopped in a local park to make a few contacts in the Straight Key Century Club’s Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest.

When I arrived at the trailhead, it was nearly full. Fortunately, I grabbed one of the last remaining parking spaces. After loading up my radio gear, I hopped on the bike and took off down the trail. As the trailhead parking situation would suggest, the trail was getting lots of use from walkers and cyclists. 

After a few miles of riding, I stopped in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. I found a picnic table away from the trail and set up my TR-35 transceiver. I also set up my 19-foot vertical using my homebrew ground mount

WB3GCK taking a radio break along the Perkiomen Trail
WB3GCK taking a radio break along the Perkiomen Trail

I didn’t hear much contest activity, but I seemed to have a pipeline to Prince Edward Island in Canada. I made SKCC contacts with the special event station, VC3Y/VY2, on both 40M and 20M. I also worked VA3DXQ/VY2 who was doing a POTA activation. KS9KCC was booming in from Indiana, but they didn’t seem to hear my five-watt signal. (Later in the day, I logged KS9KCC from home on 40M.) After making seven contacts, I packed up and continued on my ride.

My homebrew 19-foot vertical and ground mount
My homebrew 19-foot vertical and ground mount

It’s a good thing I went for my ride yesterday. The weather today is raining and dismal.

Also, on the 21st anniversary of the 9/11, please take time to remember those lost in that tragedy.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Bike-Portable at Towpath Park

I had a couple of hours this morning, so I loaded up the bike and headed out for another ride. Since the SKCC’s Weekend Sprintathon is running this weekend, I took the radio gear along for the ride. 

I rode the new section of the Schuylkill River Trail that I mentioned in my last post. I headed west from the new trailhead and rode out to Towpath Park. Towpath Park is a small community park that I have operated from many times over the years. Today was the first time I got there by bike.

After a nice three-mile ride, I arrived at the park. I headed to a small pavilion and set up the radio. I used my TR-35 and my homebrew 19-foot vertical. I have to say that I have really been enjoying my little TR-35. It’s a great rig for portable operations like this.

My bike-portable setup at Towpath Park along the Schuylkill River.
My bike-portable setup at Towpath Park along the Schuylkill River.

I didn’t hear much contest activity, but I still managed to log four contacts in short order on 40M (NH, MI, OH, MA) and one on 20M (WI). After my radio-based pit stop, I loaded up the bike and started back down the trail. On the way back, I stopped to snap a picture of what’s left of the canal from which Towpath Park derives its name.

A short stretch of the canal from which Towpath Park derives its name. The bright sunlight caused a strange rainbow effect in the picture.
A short stretch of the canal from which Towpath Park derives its name. The bright sunlight caused a strange rainbow effect in the picture.

This is a great ride for bike-portable operation. I’ll definitely be doing this again in the future.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Back on the Bike

The beginning of this week was a real bummer. A couple of days after Field Day, my trusty laptop gave up the ghost. Fortunately, it waited to die until after Field Day. However, this weekend I rode my bike for the first time since my knee surgery. So I put that one in the “Win” column. 

On Saturday, I loaded up the bike and headed out to a section of the Schuylkill River Trail that opened recently. I took along my AnyTone AT-D878UV, Bluetooth ear piece, and Bluetooth push-to-talk button. I planned to operate bicycle-mobile into our local repeater. 

This recently completed section of the Schuylill River Trail is nicely paved.
This recently completed section of the Schuylill River Trail is nicely paved.

Before hopping on the bike, I sat in the truck and paired the Bluetooth devices to the radio, and everything seemed to work—until I got on the bike. I think the battery in the PTT button died, so I put the radio stuff back in the truck and headed off down the trail. 

I’m happy to report that the new knee performed flawlessly—no pain or tightness at all. The bike was none the worse for sitting idle in the garage for more than a year. I didn’t want to push it, so I kept my ride to three miles round-trip. Plus, the humidity was brutal this morning, so I declared victory and headed home.

This morning I went on a longer ride on a different section of the Schuylkill River Trail, eventually connecting with the Perkiomen Trail. I’ve ridden on these trails countless times over years. My ride today was about six miles out and back, and I stopped in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park to take a pit stop and get on the radio.

I set up my recently acquired TR-35 at a picnic table and used my homebrew 19-foot vertical, which was ground-mounted with four 12-foot radials. I tuned up on 40M and immediately came across K2J in North Carolina, one of the 13 Colonies stations. After logging that one, I got on my straight key and called “CQ SKCC” a few times. KK8X in Ohio came back to me. We exchanged SKCC numbers and had a brief chat. I moved up to 20M and found NA4A doing a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation in Alabama.

My setup in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park on the Fourth of July. My antenna is out of the shot but about 10 feet away from the picnic table.
My setup in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park on the Fourth of July. My antenna is out of the shot but about 10 feet away from the picnic table.

After signing with NA4A, I packed up and loaded up the bike for the ride back to the trailhead. Once again, the new knee did great. I had a little fatigue but no pain to speak of, as I continue to regain my leg strength.

I want to wish my fellow American hams a happy 4th of July. Also, a belated happy Canada Day to my friends to the north.

73, Craig WB3GCK

If at First You Don’t Succeed

Given my epic fail the other day, I needed a win. I went on the same bike ride this morning, but this time I was more careful while packing my radio gear.

I rode on the Schuylkill River and Perkiomen trails, stopping off again at Lower Perkiomen Valley Park in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. I set up my 19-ft vertical by mounting it to the picnic table bench. For the rig, I used my little YouKits HB-1B, which puts out somewhere between 4 and 5 watts.

My set-up in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. I even remember to bring the antenna this time!
My set-up in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. I even remembered to bring the antenna this time!

I heard WB8JAY in Ohio calling CQ on 40M. I gave him a call, and we exchanged SKCC numbers. As we were signing off, a couple rode up on their bikes. They spotted my antenna from the trail and came by to say hello. Craig KC3MVF is a relatively new ham and is interested in doing some portable operating. It was nice chatting with Craig and his wife, Erin. 

After they rode off, I tuned around for another contact. Despite getting some decent RBN spots, it just wasn’t happening. I needed to get back home anyway, so I loaded up the bike and headed back down the trail. I only had one QSO today, but at least I got on the air this time!

It was a beautiful Labor Day weekend here in southeastern Pennsylvania. I hope you all had a great weekend as well.

73, Craig WB3GCK

For the Want of a Nail

You might have heard the old proverb: For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lostIt means that even the smallest of details can prevent a successful outcome. That was true for me today.

I went out into the garage this morning and noticed that my bike had cobwebs on it. I guess the spiders were trying to tell me that I was overdue for a ride. I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and take a ride to blow the cobwebs off of the bike—literally.

Of course, I planned to do some portable operating during my ride. After some thought as to what I needed to bring, I gathered everything up and started stuffing the radio gear into my pannier bags. I put everything into the truck, loaded up the bike, and off I went.

I went to one of my favorite trails, the Schuylkill River Trail, and rode a couple of miles up to Lower Perkiomen Park. I found a bench away from the trail and proceeded to unpack my radio stuff. 

Radio—check!

Battery—check!

Cables, paddles, and earbuds—check!

Antenna pole and ground mount—check!

Antenna bag containing my 19-foot vertical parts—oops!

I frantically searched through my pannier bags only to conclude that I must have left my antenna bag at home. A phone call to my (far) better half confirmed that my bag of antenna parts was indeed at home. Although I used a checklist, I made the fatal mistake of checking off the antenna bag before actually packing it in the pannier bags. Doh!

My bike loaded up with everything I need for operating QRP in the park—except for my antenna!
My bike loaded up with everything I need for operating QRP in the park—except for my antenna!

I didn’t get to operate from the park today, but it was still a great day for a ride. And, the cobwebs are gone. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Bike-Portable in the Park

We finally got a break from the incessant heat yesterday, so it was a great day to take the bike out for a ride.

I headed back to the Schuylkill River Trail near Oaks, Pennsylvania; one of my favorite places to ride. I rode for a couple of miles before turning onto the Perkiomen Trail. Along the way, I stopped in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park for a little radio.

Bicycle-portable in Lower Schuylkill Valley Park
Bicycle-portable in Lower Schuylkill Valley Park

I mounted my Alexloop to a picnic table and fired up my trusty KX3. Things got off to a slow start but I eventually connected with fellow SKCCer, K9FW, on 30M. Al always puts out a great signal from Indiana. The 40M band was tied up with Ohio QSO Party stations. I worked a few of them before loading up the bike to continue my ride.

There was nothing earth-shattering, radio-wise, but it was a beautiful day to be out cruising on my bike. I’ll take those mid-70s temperatures any day.

72, Craig WB3GCK

East Branch Brandywine Trail

I explored another new (to me) trail this morning. I stopped during my bike ride to make some contacts and narrowly avoided getting “skunked.”

This morning I took a ride on the East Branch Brandywine Trail near Downingtown, Pennsylvania. This beautiful trail parallels the creek for which it’s named. It’s a multi-use trail that is paved and runs through some dense woods. If you couldn’t hear the road noise from a nearby road, you would think you were out in the middle of nowhere.

This unique information kiosk for the East Branch Brandywine Trail was built as an Eagle Scout project.
This unique information kiosk for the East Branch Brandywine Trail was built as an Eagle Scout project.

I started off from the trailhead just outside of Downingtown and rode south for a few miles. On the way back, I found a picnic table and stopped to set up the radio. The trail runs between two ridges and, with the dense foliage, I figured I would be in for a tough time today. Besides, a Tuesday morning isn’t exactly prime-time, either.

I ground-mounted my 19-foot vertical and tuned up my KX3 on 40 meters. I tuned around but didn’t hear any activity. Despite getting some good spots on the Reverse Beacon Network, I got no responses to my CQs. The 20 meter band was worse; I didn’t show up on RBN at all.

My setup on the East Branch Brandywine Trail
My setup on the East Branch Brandywine Trail

I finally dropped down to 30M and found some activity there. I heard Bill W9ZN calling CQ from Chicago and gave him a call. I have worked Bill numerous times over the years and he always has a great signal.

After I signed with Bill, I went back to 40M for a final check. I called CQ for a bit with no takers. I decided to pack up and get back to enjoying the trail.

The scenic Brandywine Creek
The scenic Brandywine Creek

With only one contact in the log, it wasn’t my best radio outing. The scenery on the ride back almost made me forget about that. Almost, but not quite.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Bike-Portable on the Perkiomen Trail

With rainy weekends and other competing activities, I was way overdue for a bike ride. Of course, my ride today included a stop to make a few contacts.

This year, I’m making it a point to explore some new trails, instead of just sticking with my usual haunts. Today I chose to ride a section of the Perkiomen Trail near Graterford, Pennsylvania. I started off from the Graterford trailhead and rode north towards Central Perkiomen Park.

One of the paved sections on the Perkiomen Trail. Other parts of the trail were gravel-covered.
One of the paved sections on the Perkiomen Trail. Other parts of the trail were gravel-covered.

Although I enjoyed the scenic ride, it was a little shorter than I anticipated. As it turns out, the park was only a little over two miles from the trailhead. No worries; that just gave me more time for radio!

One of the bridges on the Perkiomen Trail
One of the bridges on the Perkiomen Trail

Central Perkiomen Park is a beautiful park and I appreciated the modern restrooms (an important consideration for us old guys). After cruising around the park, I set up on a picnic table under a shady tree. I clamped my 19-foot vertical to one of the benches and fired up my KX3.

My antenna mount. This is a mount that I normally use with my AlexLoop. It's just a PVC elbow and about 4 inches of 1/2-inch PVC pipe.
My antenna mount. This is a mount that I normally use with my AlexLoop. It’s just a PVC elbow and about 4 inches of 1/2-inch PVC pipe.

I started out on 20M and found general bedlam from the WPX CW contest. That type of contest operating has never really appealed to me, so I made a couple of quick contacts (2 Canadian stations) and headed for the more peaceful waters of the 30M band.

I called CQ a few times and heard K4AHO calling from Florida. Jim was running 5 watts from an HB1B. We had a lot of fading but managed to complete the contact. I also a nice chat with Mark K4NC from North Carolina.

WB3GCK operating from Central Perkiomen Park
WB3GCK operating from Central Perkiomen Park

By this time, the weather was really starting to heat up, so I dropped down to 40M for one more contact. This time, I got a call from KC3RN who was running 5 watts from Pittsburgh. Kevin and I chatted for a bit before I packed up and loaded up the bike for the ride back.

I had used a straight key for most of the year, so far, so I really needed to get my paddle fist in shape before Field Day. I was definitely starting to get a bit rusty. Since most of my contacts this year have been short SKCC exchanges, it was also nice to have some casual rag chew contacts. Of course, a little exercise on the bike didn’t hurt, either.

72, Craig WB3GCK

First Bike Ride of 2018

Despite all the bad weather lately, we managed to get a weekend’s worth of half-decent weather. So, I brushed the cobwebs off my bike (literally) and went out for a spin on one of my favorite trails.

I rode the Schuylkill River Trail from the Oaks Trailhead up to the Perkiomen Trail and stopped in the Lower Perkiomen Valley Park for some bicycle-portable QRP. I parked next to a convenient bench and set up my KX3.

I did some experimenting with a mount I made to use my bike as a support for my portable vertical. That didn’t work out as planned so I ground-mounted my 19-foot vertical next to my bike, using a screwdriver shoved in the ground.

My setup in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. The white object on the ground is a Dollar Store cutting board. The ground was soft so I used the cutting board under the kick stand to stabilize the bike.
My setup in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. The white object on the ground is a Dollar Store cutting board. The ground was soft so I used the cutting board under the kick stand to stabilize the bike.

I started off looking for some SKCC QSOs on 40M but there wasn’t much activity there. I moved up to 30M and KO5Q in Georgia answered my CQ. After I finished chatting with Roger, I moved up to 20M and found W0RT in Kansas. Immediately after I signed with Rick, I got a call from a very loud NA3AR. Tony was just a few miles away in nearby Collegeville.  That accounts for his very loud signal.

By the time I finished up with Tony, the wind had picked up and it was starting to get cold. So, I packed up the bike for the ride back to the trailhead.

It sure felt good to get out on the bike today. I’m a member of the Rails to Trails Conservancy, so I’m making it a point this year to explore more local trails with the bike.  There will definitely be more bike-portable operations in my future.

72, Craig WB3GCK