POTA/PBMME/FYBO – February 2023

I made a trip down to Ridley Creek State Park today to take part in three events. Besides a normal POTA activation (K-1414), the annual FYBO contest and the monthly Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event (PBMME) were happening. 

Because of the cold weather, I operated from the truck, using my KX3 (5 watts) and homebrew vertical. At 23F (-5C), my weather was nowhere near what folks up north were experiencing. Still, it was a little colder than I wanted to deal with today. The sun coming through the windshield kept my operating position around a comfortable 58F.

The "QRP-Mobile" at Ridley Creek State Park (K-1414}
The WB3GCK “QRP-Mobile” at Ridley Creek State Park (K-1414}

After approximately 90 minutes, I had 31 stations in my log. Among those were two fellow Polar Bears, John VA3KOT and Jamie AA4K. Jamie was one of five park-to-park contacts I made today. I didn’t hear any FYBO stations. I spent most of my time calling, “CQ POTA.,” so I wasn’t really looking too hard.

Towards the end of my outing, I spent some time up on 15M. My 5-watt signal was getting some strong European hits on RBN, but I didn’t hear much activity on the band. I eventually had four contacts on 15M, including Belgium and Italy. 

Starting tomorrow, we’ll be getting back to more moderate weather here in Pennsylvania. I’m looking forward to it.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Wolf Moon Polar Bear Outing

The Polar Bear QRP Ops group held a Polar Bear Moonlight Madness (PBMME) event today. PBMMEs are held on the Saturday closest to a full moon. The most-recent full moon, known as the Wolf Moon, was yesterday. So, I coupled the Polar Bear event with a POTA activation.

I headed out to Evansburg State Park (K-1351) here in southeastern Pennsylvania. To keep things simple, I used my homebrew vertical mounted on my truck. A small table behind the truck served as my operating position. I was up and running in about five minutes.

My operating location at Evansburg State Park (K-1351)
My operating location at Evansburg State Park (K-1351)

I started on 40M and had a steady stream of callers for close to 45 minutes. About ten minutes into my activation, I got a call from my first Polar Bear of the day, VE3WMB. Later on, I heard from two more Polar Bear members, AB4PP and VA3KOT. I always enjoy hearing “GRRR,” our traditional on-air greeting. 

My rig today was my trusty Penntek TR-35 and Elecraft T1 ATU.
My rig today was my trusty Penntek TR-35 and Elecraft T1 ATU.

I switched over to 20M and picked up a few more QSOs. My last QSO of the day was with K4UPG, a fellow Polar Bear member in Florida. It’s been a few years since I’ve worked Kelly, so it was great to hear him again.

After about an hour, my fingers started getting cold, so I called it quits. I didn’t have a problem sending with the paddles, but my log entries were getting hard to read.

WB3GCK wearing appropriate headgear for a Polar Bear QRP outing
WB3GCK wearing appropriate headgear for a Polar Bear QRP outing

I ended up with 37 contacts, including four park-to-park QSOs and four Polar Bear members. There hasn’t been much Polar Bear QRP activity in recent years, so it’s nice to see things picking up again.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Kicking Off 2023

My (far) better half and I spent the holiday weekend visiting family in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area and ringing in the new year with our grand-kids. While everyone else was sleeping in on New Year’s Day, I headed out to activate a park.

After doing some online research, I picked Memorial Lake State Park (K-1384) in Lebanon County as the site for my first activation of the year. After a quick stop for some breakfast and coffee, I made the easy 30-minute drive to the park. 

I rolled into one of the three parking areas around 9AM (local time). There were quite a few walkers and mountain bikers already making use of the park. I set up my usual setup: Penntek TR-35 (5 watts) and my homebrew vertical

WB3GCK at Memorial Lake State Park in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania
WB3GCK at Memorial Lake State Park in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania

I fired up the TR-35 and got ready to start, but my Elecraft T1 tuner struggled to find a match on 40M. This is highly unusual, since the antenna is resonant on that band. I immediately recognized the symptoms of a faulty ground connection between the antenna and the body of the truck. Last week, I made an “improved” ground strap that I was using for the first time. Apparently, my soldering job on an alligator clip left something to be desired. I switched back to my old ground strap, and all was right with the world after that.

Memorial Lake. There was a thin layer of ice in this area.
Memorial Lake. There was a thin layer of ice in this area.

After spotting myself on the POTA website, I soon had my first contact of the year. Thanks to NC4RT in North Carolina for starting things off. One of my contacts on 40M was with VE3WMB in Ontario. Michael is a fellow Polar Bear QRPer who greeted me with our traditional “GRRR.” A few contacts later, I also received a “GRRR” from VE3DN. Later on, I heard from Eric again on 30M. It’s always fun to hear from my fellow Polar Bears.

My POTA certificate for activating a park during the first week of the year.
My POTA certificate for activating a park during the first week of the year.

After an hour, I had 37 contacts, including three park-to-park contacts and two Polar Bears. I packed up, took a few pictures, and was back at the house just as the rest of the family was crawling out of bed. 

So far, 2023 is off to a good start. Let’s hope we all have a happy and healthy year ahead of us!

72, Craig WB3GCK

Polar Bear QSO with NJ7V

During a recent outing, I had the pleasure of having a QSO with fellow Polar Bear QRP member, NJ7V. Charlie was doing a combined SOTA/POTA/Polar Bear activation, which he documented on his Red Summit RF YouTube channel.

Our QSO is included in his video, starting around the 11:30 mark. Despite the QSB and QRM, we managed to complete a POTA park-to-park contact. Of course, we also exchanged the traditional Polar Bear QRP greeting, “GRRR.”

If you’re into portable QRP operating, be sure to check out the Red Summit RF channel. You’ll lots of great videos out there. In particular, I’ve been enjoying the reviews in his Portable Morse Code Paddles Series. Good stuff!

72, Craig WB3GCK

Ridley Creek Redux

I try to get out for some QRP-portable operation at least once each week. To get my fix this week, I made a trip down to Ridley Creek State Park (K-1414/KFF-1414).

It’s been about seven months since my last visit. Back then, I was recovering from knee surgery, and I got to hang out with someone’s pet pig. 

This time out, I used my little TR-35 and my trusty 19-foot vertical. The bands seemed a little weak today. Nevertheless, I logged 45 contacts over the course of my 90-minute activation. I had one park-to-park contact, but no DX today. 

WB3GCK at Ridley Creek State Park (PA) (K-1414/KFF-1414)
WB3GCK at Ridley Creek State Park (PA) (K-1414/KFF-1414)

Before I got started, I broke out my antenna analyzer to take a few measurements on the vertical. When I built the antenna over five years ago, I did the initial tweaking with it mounted close to ground with four ground radials. I knew that the resonant frequencies shifted significantly, when using the body of the truck for ground. Because of this, I have always used a tuner to keep my rig happy. I’m thinking about possibly building another one and optimizing it for use on the truck. Of course, after making tons of QSOs over the past five years with the current antenna, I guess there’s no real hurry. 

I hope you all have a very happy and healthy holiday season. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Three-in-One Outing

I combined three activities into one outing today. The Polar Bear QRP Club was doing a Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event (PBMME), and the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) started today. I planned to make some contacts in both, while doing a POTA activation.

The Polar Bear group traditionally schedules outings on the Saturday nearest a full moon. Rather than hold a separate on-air event, the Polar Bear ops are encouraged to conduct their usual portable operations (e.g. POTA, SOTA, picnic table portable somewhere, etc.) and give the other Polar Bears a heads-up so they can keep an ear out for them. The SKCC WES is held every month, and it just happened to coincide with the PBMME.

For today’s event, I chose to do a POTA activation at Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380). I used my Penntek TR-35 (CW @ 5W) and my 19-foot vertical. I operated from the West Launch parking area with a beautiful view of the lake. My plan was to call “CQ POTA” on each band for a while. Before changing bands, I planned to “search and pounce” looking for Polar Bears and SKCC stations. 

Western boat launch area in Marsh Creek State Park (PA)
West Launch area in Marsh Creek State Park (PA)

After about two hours, I had 37 contacts in my log. I spent most of my time making POTA contacts, so I only made three SKCC QSOs. I found two Polar Bears on the air, however. NJ7V was doing a combined POTA and SOTA activation out in Arizona. I saw Charlie’s spot come up on the POTA website, so I called him on 20M. We had a “tuner-upper” on the frequency, but we got our park-to-park QSO done. I also had a park-to-park QSO with AE5X, another Polar Bear member. John was activating a park down in Florida. Altogether, I had ten park-to-park QSOs today. 

I have to say this was a fun way to spend a chilly December morning.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Duct Tape to the Rescue

I made a run down to the White Clay Creek Preserve (K-6433) for a POTA activation this morning. It’s been about a year since my last visit to this park. While I had a successful activation, it was not without some equipment issues.

After an hour-long drive, I rolled into a parking area near the park office. As I began setting up my homebrew vertical, the eyelet at the top of my Black Widow pole snapped off. This pole has seen heavy use over the past 25 years, so something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. 

So, I rummaged around in the truck for something that would temporarily attach my antenna wire to the top of the pole. Searching through a plastic milk crate that I keep in the truck bed, I found something that would do the trick—a roll of duct tape. Unfortunately, this roll of tape has been in the truck bed for years through freezing cold and scorching heat. As a result, this sad-looking roll of tape was stuck fast to the bottom of the crate. With the help of a large screwdriver, I pried it loose. Eager to get on the air, I tore off a piece of tape and secured the antenna wire to the top of the pole.

My broken antenna pole and the duct tape attaching the antenna wire
My broken antenna pole and the duct tape attaching the antenna wire

With my antenna finally installed, I got started with my trusty TR-35 (5 watts). The bands didn’t seem very strong this morning, but the hunters still heard me. After a little more than an hour, I had 38 contacts, including five park-to-park QSOs. Up on 17M, I also heard from stations in Italy and Puerto Rico.

WB3GCK at White Clay Creek Preserve (PA)
WB3GCK at White Clay Creek Preserve (PA)

As I was taking the antenna down, things got interesting again. Remember that sad-looking duct tape? Well, it didn’t want to come off the antenna pole without a fight. With considerable frustration and a few choice words, I got the tape off of the pole. Unfortunately, my antenna wire (#26 stealth wire) incurred some damage in the process. 

I guess I have a few repairs to add to my to-do list.

72, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at Big Elk Creek State Park

For most of this year, I’ve fallen into the habit of activating the same familiar parks. Today, I wanted to go out to a park I haven’t been to before. After looking at the map on the POTA website, I chose Big Elk Creek State Park (K-9721/KFF-6093) as today’s destination. 

Big Elk Creek received its state park designation back in September, making it one of Pennsylvania’s newest state parks. I did a little Google Earth reconnaissance to get a feel for the area. There are no amenities to speak of, but it has some trails and two trailhead parking lots. I entered both trailheads into my navigation app before heading out.

Big Elk Creek near the Springlawn Trail
Big Elk Creek near the Springlawn Trail

After driving about an hour, I stopped first at the Springlawn trailhead. Being a low-lying area, it didn’t look promising for radio. A sign showed that the trail was closed temporarily because of hunting in the area. I moved on to the second parking area shown on the park map. 

I pulled into the Fair Hill Trailhead. This spot was wide open, had good elevation, and I was the only one there. I set up my usual Penntek TR-35 (5 watts) and my homebrew vertical

Fair Hill Trailhead in Big Elk Creek State Park
Fair Hill Trailhead in Big Elk Creek State Park

I started on the 40 meters CW. Right after I spotted my location and frequency, I was greeted by a large pile-up that took a little while to work through. Being a new park, Big Elk Creek has only been activated a handful of times. I’m guessing that’s what attracted all the hunters.

During my activation, I also spent time on 30, 20, and 17 meters. After about an hour and 15 minutes, I had 42 stations in my log. I had three park-to-park QSOs, and I also worked England, Italy, and Portugal. 

Right as I was reaching for the power switch to turn off the radio, I heard PG4I calling “CQ SKCC” on 17M. I quickly grabbed my straight key and called him. We exchanged our SKCC info, and Jo gave me a 559 from the Netherlands. That brought my total to 43 with four DX contacts today. 

A car pulled into the parking lot as I was taking down my antenna. The driver walked over to inquire about my antenna. I gave him a brief explanation of the Parks on the Air program, and we had a nice chat about the park. He told me about the trail that heads south for about a mile to the Maryland state line. The Fair Hill State Natural Area (K-6387) is just across the state line.

I’m planning to come back at some point to do a little hiking and activate both Big Elk Creek and Fair Hill.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Black Friday POTA

Traditionally, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S. is the start of the Christmas shopping season. People flock to the stores looking for bargains. This time of year is typically when stores start turning a profit (operating in the black), hence the name “Black Friday.” Wanting to avoid all of that craziness, I went a different way and headed out to a nearby park for a POTA activation.

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t been on the air much this month. I was overdue for some QRP-portable operating, so I headed to nearby Evansburg State Park (K-1351, KFF-1351). It was rainy here in southeastern Pennsylvania this morning. When I arrived at the park, I was the only one there for a while. 

WB3GCK at Evansburg State Park (K-1351) on a damp and dreary morning
WB3GCK at Evansburg State Park (K-1351) on a damp and dreary morning

I set up my TR-35 (5 watts) inside the truck and installed my trusty 19-foot vertical on the back. The hunters quickly showed up after I spotted myself. I had my required ten contacts in about ten minutes. After I had logged 16 contacts on 40M, a station came on frequency and started CQing. I figured that was a good time to check some other bands.

The organized chaos inside my truck
The organized chaos inside my truck

Up on 20M, the signals didn’t seem as strong. Nevertheless, I picked up 15 more contacts. I made four more contacts on 17M before pulling the plug. 

After a little more than an hour, I ended up with 36 contacts. Among those were four park-to-park contacts. I also logged four DX contacts: DL1AX (on two bands), SP6GNJ, and F4ILH. 

It felt great to be back out activating. Hopefully, I can get back out again over the weekend.

73, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at Swatara State Park

I had a rare free day today. The only thing on my agenda was to drive out to see my grand-kids in central Pennsylvania. I made a last-minute decision to activate a park on the way there. 

Just minutes before I left the house, I looked at the map of parks on the POTA website and selected Swatara State Park (K-1426/KFF-1426). I’d never been there, so I took a quick look at a map of the park and spotted a trailhead with restrooms. So, I put the address for the Trout Run Trailhead in my GPS and took off. 

I rolled into the parking lot about 90 minutes later. Except for a park maintenance truck, I was the only one there. I quickly set up and got busy. The rig today was my TR-35 (5 watts) and my trusty 19-foot vertical

WB3GCK all alone in the Trout Run trailhead parking lot at Swatara State Parks
WB3GCK all alone in the Trout Run trailhead parking lot at Swatara State Park

The cell coverage was great, so I easily spotted myself. A minute or two later, the hunters came calling. I spent most of my time on 40M, but I also made contacts on 30M and 20M. 

After about 90 minutes, I had 54 CW contacts in the log. Among those were six park-to-park QSOs and one DX contact (CU3AA).

Swatara State Park is another park worth further exploration. There aren’t many amenities, but there are lots of trails. It appears to be a popular spot for mountain biking. 

Trail signs at Swatara State Park. The Appalachian Trail runs through the park, but I wasn't close enough for a "two-fer."
Trail signs at Swatara State Park. The Appalachian Trail runs through the park, but I wasn’t close enough for a “two-fer.”

There was a trailhead for the Appalachian Trail just down the road from where I was. If I hadn’t been so hasty with my planning, I could have gone there and activated a “two-fer.” Maybe next time. 

73, Craig WB3GCK