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

Bike-Portable with My AlexLoop

Today was the first chance I’ve had during this long, holiday weekend to go out play radio. I’m a regular supporter of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, so I like to take advantage of rail trails when I can. Today, I loaded up my bike and headed down to the Chester Valley Trail. The Chester Valley Trail cuts across Chester County and connects to a large, growing network of trails in the greater Philadelphia area.

I decided to take my AlexLoop along today. I’ve never really tried carrying the AlexLoop on my bike before. While it fits comfortably in my backpack, I don’t really like to ride with a backpack on. I’ve always found that uncomfortable, especially on hot and humid days.

My bike loaded up and ready for travel. The AlexLoop structural components are in the green back. The coax radiator is in one of the pannier bags.
My bike loaded up and ready for travel. The AlexLoop structural components are in the green back. The coax radiator is in one of the pannier bags.

Today, I arranged the three support pieces of the loop side-by-side. I used the velcro straps on the back of the tuning box to help hold the three sections together. Then I placed the sections in an over-sized nylon stuff sack. Taking care not to bend the antenna’s feed loop, I strapped the loop components and my tripod on the rear rack of my bike. I put the coax part of the loop in one of my panniers, along with my LiFePO4 battery. I put my KX3 in the other pannier bag. This turned out to be a workable solution.

This is how I arranged the AlexLoop components prior to putting them in a protective stuff sack. The velcro straps attached to the tuning box are used to help hold the pieces together.
This is how I arranged the AlexLoop components prior to putting them in a protective stuff sack. The velcro straps attached to the tuning box are used to help hold the pieces together.

After loading up the bike, I rode about 2.75 miles to the Exton County Park. I found a picnic table in a remote section of the park and set up the AlexLoop and KX3. I was out in an open area, so the wind was strong at times. I used a bungee cord to secure the tripod to the seat of the picnic table.

Due to some gusting winds, I used a bungee cord to secure the tripod to the bench.
Due to some gusting winds, I used a bungee cord to secure the tripod to the bench.

I started off calling CQ on 20 meters and quickly received a call from N5GW. Gene was on vacation in Tennessee and was putting a great signal into southeastern Pennsylvania. After chatting for a bit, I signed with Ken and moved down to 30 meters. There were no takers there, so I gave 40 meters a try. N1KK gave me a call. Ken was operating QRP-portable from his summer home in Narragansett, Rhode Island. By the time Ken and I finished our QSO, the lack of shade was starting to get to me, so I packed up the bike and got back on the trail.

My setup at Exton County Park.
My setup at Exton County Park.

I rode another mile or so further before turning around and heading back to the trailhead.  I really enjoyed this trail and I’ll definitely be doing this ride again in the near future.

I was happy with the AlexLoop arrangement on the bike but I’m sure there’s room for improvement.

I’d like to wish all of my friends here in the U.S. a happy and safe Fourth of July holiday.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Weekend Antenna Testing

Carrying on from the initial testing I did last week, I went out for a bike ride yesterday and took my experimental vertical along.  (I gave a general description of this antenna project in my previous post.)  I rode a few miles up the Schuylkill River Trail and on to a park along the Perkiomen Trail.

I set up in a remote section of the picnic area and quickly took some readings on 40 and 30 meters with my antenna analyzer.  I had done some tweaking to the loading coil but, unfortunately, both bands were still resonating too low.

My set up at Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. If you look closely at the S-meter in the upper right of the display, you can see the horrendous noise level on 40 meters.
My set up at Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. If you look closely at the S-meter in the upper right of the display, you can see the horrendous noise level on 40 meters.

I set up my KX3, intending to make some contacts.  This, however, was not to be.  There was a background noise level that was higher than I had encountered on a previous visit to this park.  As I was tuning around, I looked over and saw that the wind had blown my antenna over.  I neglected to bring anything along that I could use to stabilize the antenna and tripod.  I set it back up but it wasn’t long before the antenna was on the ground again.  After it blew over a 3rd time, I gave up.  I packed up the bike and rode back down the trail to my truck.

My bike loaded up for the trip home. No contacts today but at least I had a nice bike ride!
My bike loaded up for the trip home. No contacts today but at least I had a nice bike ride!

This morning I made another adjustment to the antenna’s loading coil and headed over to Valley Forge Park to test it.  Like yesterday, it was somewhat breezy.  This time, I hung my backpack from a hook on the bottom of the tripod to make sure the antenna stayed upright.

My set up at Valley Forge National Historical Park. I hooked my backpack to the bottom of the tripod to help stabilize it in the wind.
My set up at Valley Forge National Historical Park. I hooked my backpack to the bottom of the tripod to help stabilize it in the wind.

I took some antenna analyzer readings and found that the 40-meter band was now resonating right where I wanted it.  I saw some improvement on 30 meters but it was still resonating below the band.  Obviously, the tap for the 30-meter band is in the wrong place.

As I tuned around, it the bands seemed better this morning.  I worked N5P in Texas on 20 meters.  N5P was participating in the Museum Ships Weekend event from the National Museum of the Pacific War.  I moved down to 30 meters and heard a couple of strong stations.  I didn’t make any contacts there, though.

I called CQ on 40 meters and quickly got a call from N1PVP in Massachusetts.  I remembered working Marino a couple of weeks ago.  He always has a very strong signal into Pennsylvania.  I wrapped up with a two-way QRP QSO with Alan AC8AP in Ohio.

Antenna-wise, I have to do some thinking about how to proceed with my experimental vertical.  As I see it, I have a few options:

  • I could continue to tweak the existing coil.  If I remove turns from the bottom of the coil while adding the same number of turns to the top of the coil, this would effectively move the tap point for the 30-meter band.
  • It might be easier to just re-wind the coil and add a few more tap points.  I could do some testing to see which tap works the best.
  • I could always invoke the “do nothing” option.  The SWR on 30 meters is only about 4.3:1, which is a trivial match for the KX3’s internal tuner.

In any event, the antenna is useful as it stands.  I’ll take some time this week to consider my next move.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Back in the Saddle Again

I took advantage of this sunny Spring day to get in my first bike ride of the year.  The Straight Key Century Club’s  Weekend Sprintathon (WES) was in progress, I figured I would stop along the way to make a few contacts.

I rode a few miles down the Schuylkill River and Perkiomen Trails and set up in a park.  I’ve operated from this spot on many occasions.  The ground was still muddy from recent rains but, fortunately, there’s a convenient bench there.

My antenna launching arm was a bit rusty.  It took a few tries to get my line over the tree branch I was aiming for.  I set up the radio on the park bench and tuned around.  The bands seemed a bit quiet for a contest weekend.

My trusty bike once again serving as the anchor for my 30-foot wire antenna.
My trusty bike once again serving as the anchor for my 30-foot wire antenna.

I alternated between calling, “CQ WES,” and searching around for other SKCC stations.  I wasn’t having much luck.  I got my phone out and checked a couple of propagation sites and wasn’t encouraged by what I saw.  I checked RBN and saw that I wasn’t getting many spots.  I was also getting an S4 noise level on 40 meters.  There was a park building about 100 yards away from me.  I’m guessing that something over there was causing the noise.  All-in-all, this wasn’t shaping up to be a memorable day for QRP operating.

Park bench portable in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park.
Park bench portable in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park.

Fortunately, W8IQ heard me in Ohio and rescued me from getting skunked today.  Sometimes there are days when it would have been more productive to pack a fishing rod instead of a radio.

Anyway, it was a great day to get back out on the bike and loosen up these old knees of mine.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Busy Radio Weekend

This was a busy weekend, radio-wise.  First, the Polar Bear QRP Club held their monthly Moonlight Madness Event on Saturday.  Also, the Facebook-based Field Radio group was holding their second International Field Radio Event (IFRE) this weekend.  Finally, the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) was holding their monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest.  To take advantage of all of this, I went portable twice over the weekend.

Saturday:
It was a bit chilly here in southeastern Pennsylvania, so I operated “stationary-mobile” from a local park.  I used my KX3 with a 29.5-foot vertical on the back of my truck.   When I powered up the radio, I immediately heard fellow Polar Bear, Chuck AF4O, calling CQ from a park in Tennessee.  I gave him a shout and had a nice chat.  His HB-1A sounded great.

My “stationary-mobile” location in Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.
My “stationary-mobile” location in Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.

I tuned around listening for stations operating in the International Field Radio Event. Not hearing any, I called CQ on 20 meters and got a call from HA3NU.  I think he was search and pouncing in a contest but he gave me a contact anyway.  I shifted over to SSB (which I don’t do very often) and worked 4 stations that way on 20 and 40 meters.

Since the SKCC WES was also going on, I put the KX3 in straight key mode and laid my Palm mini paddles on their side and used one paddle as a straight key.  I made two contacts that way, including F6HKA,  (Bert always has good ears.)

I ended my session by working Joe N2CX who was doing an NPOTA activation (Fort Necessity National Battlefield in southwestern Pennsylvania).

I wound up with 10 contacts total including 1 Polar Bear, 2 SKCC WES, 1 NPOTA and no IFRE stations.

Sunday
I took a bike ride on the Schuylkill River Trail, which connects to the Perkiomen Valley Trail.  I stopped at Lower Perkiomen Valley Park to set up the radio.  This is one of my favorite spots for QRP portable.  I put a 29.5-foot wire up in a tree and set up my KX3 on a conveniently located bench.

My bike was again used to tie off my antenna.
My bike was again used to tie off my antenna.

The bands were definitely not as hot as yesterday.  I tuned around the Field Radio calling frequencies but didn’t hear any IFRE activity.  I called “CQ IFR” on both 40 and 20 meters but had no takers.   The SKCC WES contest was still going on, so I made a few SKCC contacts.  One of those was with F6EJN.  It took a few tries to complete the QSO but Bob was able to pull me out of the noise.  While tuning around 40 meters, I had an NPOTA contact with WK2S.  Art was in the Pinelands National Reserve Affiliated Area (AA19) in New Jersey, which is a new one for me.

Operating from a bench in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park
Operating from a bench in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park

The weather was absolutely beautiful today but, as the sun began to set behind the trees, it started getting cold.  So, I loaded up the bike and headed back down the trail.

This was my second IFRE with no contacts.  Oh well, maybe next time.

72, Craig WB3GCK