Skeeter Hunt 2022

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt Logo

After a long drive home from North Carolina yesterday, we were still unpacking from our vacation and getting caught up on things today. I couldn’t pass up the annual Skeeter Hunt QRP contest, so I snuck out to make a few contacts. Besides, I was issued a single-digit skeeter number (#7) this year, so I couldn’t let that go to waste.

I drove a few miles over to Valley Forge National Historical Park, hoping to catch enough skeeters for a valid POTA activation (K-0761). The area I was in was busy with folks enjoying their picnics, so I parked my truck well away from them. 

I didn’t plan to stay long, so I operated from the truck. I used my Penntek TR-35 and my trusty homebrew vertical. That turned out to be a wise move, since the truck provided some shade and an occasional cross-breeze through the windows. 

Yours truly operating in the 2022 Skeeter Hunt QRP contest
Yours truly operating in the 2022 Skeeter Hunt QRP contest

When I turned on the rig, the 40M band was buzzing with QRP skeeters, and I made most of my contacts there. Conditions, at times, seemed pretty good; I worked stations in WI, MO, and GA on 40M from here in southeastern PA. After running out of new ones on 40M, I moved up to 20M and picked up a few there. 

At the end of my 1.5 hour session, I had worked 16 skeeters, one non-skeeter QRPer. There were other skeeters operating from POTA entities; I had at least four park-to-park contacts I know of. 

The Skeeter Hunt is always a good time. I’m glad I could take part, even if just for a part of the contest. A big shout-out to Larry W2LJ for organizing this fun event. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

So Close

I logged into the POTA.app site this morning and noticed that I had 99 park-to-park QSOs, just one away from the next award level. With my vacation coming up, I probably won’t be able to activate a park for another couple of weeks. My obsessive nature couldn’t take looking at that 99 number all that time, so I set out today to rectify that.

I started the day just one away from the next POTA Park-to-Park award. Of course, I had to go out and get a few more.
I started the day just one away from the next POTA Park-to-Park award. Of course, I had to go out and get a few more.

I drove down to Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761/KFF-0761) this morning for a quick activation. We’re still under a heat advisory, so I got there early to avoid the worst of it. On arrival, I found a shady spot and parked my truck. 

I set up a camping chair and small table in the shade and used my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck. My rig today was my Penntek TR-35 at 5 watts. 

My setup behind my truck at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761/KFF-0761)
My setup behind my truck at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761/KFF-0761)

The CW hunters were out in force early today. It took all of 15 minutes to make my first ten contacts. Operating for exactly an hour, I finished with 25 QSOs in my log. Best of all, five were park-to-park QSOs, so I had more than enough to put me over the top. 

With my mission accomplished, I can stop fixating on that pesky “99.” 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Puppy Sitting and POTA

My daughter and her family went on a road trip to Michigan for my grandson’s hockey tournament. They needed someone to stay with their dog, Cooper, who is recovering from recent leg surgery. I volunteered to stay at their house near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, while they were gone and spend some one-on-one time with my “grand-dog.” Of course, I took some radio gear along with me. 

Cooper is recovering nicely from his surgery, but he still needs to restrict his activity. He’s OK on his own for a few hours, so I planned to squeeze in a couple of short radio-related outings while out there.

Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area (K/KFF-4356)

After feeding and walking the grand-dog on Thursday morning, I headed out for a quick POTA activation. The Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area—now that’s a mouthful—is only about 25 minutes away, so I could get an activation in without leaving the dog alone for too long. 

The parking area, on a hill, was vacant when I pulled in. I passed a huge high tension tower near the park entrance, but, fortunately, the power lines didn’t run anywhere near the parking lot. I set up the TR-35 in the cab and mounted my trusty homebrew vertical on the back of the truck. 

Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area entrance. You can see one leg of a huge high tension tower behind it. Fortunately, the powerlines didn't run near the parking lot.
Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area entrance. You can see one leg of a huge high tension tower behind it. Fortunately, the powerlines didn’t run near the parking lot.

I started out on 40M, and the band was in excellent shape. Despite being sandwiched in between some mountains, my five-watt signal was getting out fine. I was getting some very strong spots on the Reverse Beacon Network. I logged my first ten contacts in less than 15 minutes. 

My parking spot at the Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area. The woods were behind me, out of the shot.
My parking spot at the Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area. The woods were behind me, out of the shot.

After making 20 contacts on 40M, I moved up to 20M. There, I logged another 10 contacts, including SM0NSJ in Sweden. After about 50 minutes on the air, I started packing up to make my way back to the house.

The final tally was 30 contacts, with one park-to-park, and one DX QSO. Looking at the POTA website, it looks like this was the first CW activation at this park in more than two years.

I didn’t see much of the park, but what I saw looks beautiful. I will definitely need to go back there to do some hiking on the trails.

PA State Game Land 246 (K-8941)

My original plan for Friday morning was to take a bike ride on the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail and operate from somewhere along the trail. I’ve been wanting to ride this trail since I did some portable operating from the trailhead about 4 years ago. Unfortunately, as I was putting the bike on the rack for the trip out here, I found that the rear brake was locked up. I didn’t have time to deal with it; so, sadly, I left the bike at home. Another time, I guess.

With the bike out of the question, I instead drove a few miles down the road to PA State Game Land 246 for another POTA activation. There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot, and he left about 15 minutes later. 

All alone in the parking lot for Pennsylvania State Game Lands 246 in Middletown, PA
All alone in the parking lot for Pennsylvania State Game Lands 246 in Middletown, PA

Band conditions seemed in great shape; it didn’t take long to make my first ten contacts. One of my first contacts was with fellow QRPer, W1PID, in New Hampshire. I hadn’t worked Jim in a while, so it was good to hear him calling. 

I had a few stations that worked me on multiple bands. W6OUL in California heard my five-watt signal on 30 and 20 meter bands. Those were my longest contacts of the day. Meanwhile, K9VIC in Illinois reached me on all three bands used today (40M, 30M, and 20M). 

I was on the air for exactly one hour, ending up with 34 QSOs with one park-to-park contact. After that, I packed up for the short drive back to the house to hang out with the grand-dog.

Backyard Bust

On Saturday, I stayed around the house and planned to do some casual operating from the backyard. It’s been a couple of years since I last operated from here, and it has always been somewhat of a challenge. It’s in a low spot, and surrounded by houses, but I thought I’d give it a go today.

I started with my trusty 19-foot vertical on my homebrew ground mount. The receiver noise was horrendous. The Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) showed I was getting out with double-digit signal-to-noise readings. I just couldn’t hear anything. I figured the vertical was just the wrong choice for this environment.

Next, I went with the Alexloop, figuring that it would be better in this noisy environment. Like the vertical, I was getting decent SNR readings on RBN, but it was receiving only slightly better. Not great, but a little better. 

Although I got skunked, I got some practice using the Alexloop with the TR-35. I used a resistive SWR bridge between the TR-35 and the loop, and I figured out the output power settings that work best on each band to get the bridge’s LED to extinguish at resonance. I also got to test a little battery pack I put together with three 18650 Li-ion cells. 

So, this little mis-adventure wraps up my operations from here in south-central Pennsylvania, and I’m heading back home tomorrow (Sunday). At least I got in a couple of fun POTA activations while I was here. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Support Your Parks – Summer 2022

This weekend was a Parks on the Air (POTA) Support Your Parks weekend. There are four seasonal events with the chance for activators and hunters to earn plaques. Even though I stand little to no chance of getting a plaque, I figured this would be a good weekend to activate a couple of parks.

Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380)

On Saturday, I headed over to the western boat launch area in Marsh Creek State Park. I’ve operated from this spot twice in the past year, and it’s not usually busy. Not today, though. The parking lots were jam-packed, with a steady stream of boaters coming in. I drove around to the other side of the lake to check out the picnic area. 

When I arrived mid-morning, the picnic area parking lot was fairly empty. I figured the place would get pretty busy towards lunchtime, so I found a shady parking spot and operated from the truck. I used my Penntek TR-35 (5 watts) and my usual 19-foot vertical.

I forgot to take pictures of Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380), but I did take this picture in the cab of my truck.
I forgot to take pictures of Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380), but I did take this picture in the cab of my truck.

My first contact was with my friend and fellow ARES-RACES member, N3FLL. Frank said he was doing some POTA hunting today, so I was happy to give him a park. 

After I had logged 26 CW contacts (with three park-to-park QSOs), the inside of the truck was getting pretty warm. Plus the great smells from all the surrounding barbeques reminded me it was lunchtime. By the time I left, the park was getting crowded with folks taking advantage of the summer weather, so my timing was perfect.

Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761)

I wanted to get a bike ride in, so Sunday morning I rode from the Pawlings Road trailhead into Valley Forge Park. It was a little over two miles to the Betzwood Picnic Area. I operated from this location once before six years ago. The elevation isn’t very good, but I gave it a shot, anyway. 

I found a picnic table in a shady spot back along some trees. I had a hill right behind me, but the shade was more important today. On this trip, my rig was the TR-35 and my Alexloop. 

  • The Schuylkill River Trail entering Valley Forge National Historical Park from the west.
  • One of my favorite stretches along the Schuylkill River Trail. This section is in Valley Forge National Historical Park.
  • Once again, I neglected to take pictures of my setup, but here's a picture I took while packing up to head back.
  • Even if you don't qualify for a plaque, activitors and hunters participating in the Support Your Parks event get a certificate.
  • Hunters also received certificates for working parks during the Support Your Parks Weekend. My park-to-park contacts earned me this one.

My first contact was with W3DET on 30M. This was my first QSO with Dave in a while, so it was good to hear him again. I made four more contacts before giving 20M a try. I picked up one contact on 20M, so I moved down to 40M, which is the least efficient band for the Alexloop. However, the 40M band produced four park-to-park contacts.

Since it was so hot and humid, I packed up after making the required ten contacts and headed back to the trailhead. There was nothing extraordinary today, radio-wise, but I had an enjoyable bike ride.

When I got home and logged into the POTA website, I found I had received a certificate for activating during the Support Your Parks weekend. There sure were a ton of stations on the air this weekend, so I hope all the activators and hunters had fun. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Father’s Day with a New Rig

I needed another rig like I needed a hole in the head, but I couldn’t resist. I’ve had my eye on the Penntek TR-35 for a while now, so I finally pulled the trigger and ordered one. I considered it a Father’s Day present to myself. Two days later, I had the TR-35 in my hands.

Lacking the patience and the close-up vision for serious kit building these days, I ordered a factory-built radio with the rotary encoder tuning option. Now, I have seen plenty of pictures and videos of the TR-35, but the small size of this rig really struck me when I opened the box. Its footprint is not much larger than a QSL card. It’s a perfect size for portable operating.

Here are some features that drew me to the TR-35:

  • It covers the bands I use most in the field (40/30/20/17)
  • Built-in iambic mode B keyer (my mode of choice)
  • Two CW memories. Perfect for POTA activations, QRP contests, etc.
  • Separate inputs for paddle and straight key. I sometimes get calls from fellow SKCC members, so it’s convenient to switch instantly to a straight key for those QSOs.
  • No complicated menu structures to navigate to get things set up. The TR-35 is super-simple to operate, and that’s just how I like it. 

The TR-35 doesn’t include a built-in tuner. No worries; I’m going to dust off my little Elecraft T1 ATU and show it some love. An SWR indicator would have been a nice feature to have, but I can get along fine without it. 

Taking It For a Spin

I didn’t have a chance to put my new TR-35 on the air until today. I drove over to Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761 and KFF-0761) to try the new rig on a POTA activation. Doing an activation with a radio you’ve never used is a little like going camping with a tent you’ve never set up before. But, what the heck, I was a risk-taker today. Actually, I brought a backup rig along, but I never needed it. 

I set up the TR-35 in the cab of my truck, along with my T1 tuner. The antenna was my homebrew 19-foot vertical on the back of the truck. As soon as I powered up, I was greeted by lots of loud CW signals. That’s a good sign. I quickly programmed a “CQ POTA” message into one of the two CW memories and got on the air.

My TR-35 on its first POTA activation at Valley Forge National Historical Park. My Elecraft T1 tuner is on the right. It was nice to have paddles and a straight key connected simultaneously.
My TR-35 on its first POTA activation at Valley Forge National Historical Park. My Elecraft T1 tuner is on the right. It was nice to have paddles and a straight key connected simultaneously.

One of the first things I noticed is how loud the audio is. I was using earbuds, and I had to turn the volume almost all the way down. The sidetone seemed a bit loud for my liking, but not really much of a problem for me.

Once I got going, I had a lot of fun with this little rig. I easily made contacts on each of the four bands (40/30/20/17). The TR-35 is a joy to operate, and I really appreciate its simplicity. Tuning with the optional rotary encoder is smooth as silk.

After about an hour and a half, I had 24 contacts in the log, with five park-to-park QSOs. My stomach reminded me it was lunchtime, so I packed up and headed home. I left the park feeling very happy about my recent purchase. The TR-35 is going to see a lot of use in the field.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

73, Craig WB3GCK

A Chance POTA Meet-Up

I made a return trip to Fort Washington State Park (K/KFF-1352) this morning for a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation. I activated this park back in October of last year, so I wanted to give it another go today. Along with some over-the-air contacts, I made a fun eyeball QSO.

My location and setup were nearly identical to my last visit. I started on 40M, and within a few minutes, the POTA hunters showed up. After I had logged 14 contacts, I was getting ready to change bands. I noticed a car going by with a familiar callsign on its license plate. 

Greg WA3GM turned around and stopped behind my truck. I have worked Greg many times in recent years. He’s a frequent POTA activator and a fellow SKCC member. Despite those contacts, we have never met in person. After chatting for a few minutes, Greg left to find somewhere to set up for his activation.

After spending some time on 30M and 20M, I did some searching and pouncing to pick up a few park-to-park contacts. Right before pulling the plug, I found Greg on 40M and had a quick park-to-park QSO with him. Of course, we were 599 both ways.

Greg WA3GM activating Fort Washington State Park (K-1352)
Greg WA3GM activating Fort Washington State Park (K-1352)

I packed up my gear and spent some time driving around the park to see if I could find Greg. I found him less than a mile away, operating from a picnic table near some group campsites. Greg was using his trusty Rybakov antenna. We chatted for a while and learned that we have a bunch of friends in common. After posing for some selfies, I let Greg get back to his activation and headed off on my drive home. 

WA3GM (left) and WB3GCK during a chance POTA meet-up in Fort Washington State Park (K-1352)
WA3GM (left) and WB3GCK during a chance POTA meet-up in Fort Washington State Park (K-1352)

I ended up with 19 contacts in my log, with 3 park-to-park contacts and a nice eyeball QSO.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Memorial Day 2022

May has been a busy month around here, and I haven’t had much time to get out and do some portable operating. So, on the last day of the month, I made a quick trip to nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park for a short POTA activation (K-0761, KFF-0761).

I had some plans for later today, so headed out early. Most of the holiday picnic goers would likely arrive later to observe Memorial Day and take advantage of the glorious weather. Based on previous activations, I knew where to find a shady parking spot. Once situated there, I set up my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck. I operated my trusty KX3 in the truck, this time out. 

My parking spot at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761, KFF-0761)
My parking spot at Valley Forge National Historical Park (K-0761, KFF-0761)

Starting out on 40M, I made the requisite ten contacts in about 15 minutes. My best “DX” of the day was California and Washington State, both on 20M with 5 watts. I operated for a little over an hour and ended up with 32 contacts with four park-to-park QSOs. 

Now that I’m driving again, life seems a little more normal. It was good to do an activation with no chauffeur. My (far) better half was a good sport, but I know she has things she’d rather be doing.

Friends here in southeastern Pennsylvania have been talking about how bad the ticks are this year. I think they’re right. As I was driving out of the parking lot, I found one crawling on the back of my neck. So, be careful out there.

Finally, I’d like to wish everyone an enjoyable and safe holiday. Please be sure to take time to remember and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Patience is a Virtue

I’m still not able to drive yet, so my (far) better half offered to take me out for another POTA activation. Things got off to a slow start, so much so that I was tempted to throw in the towel. I hung in there, and eventually my patience paid off.

Like last week’s trip, we kept it close to home. We headed down to Ridley Creek State Park (POTA K-1414, WWFF KFF-1414) for some Parks on the Air action.

Like last week, I kept my gear simple and used my KX3 (5 watts) and AlexLoop. After calling CQ for a while on 40M, I finally logged a contact. Moving between 20M and 30M, I made three more contacts. Despite some decent spots on RBN, I was stuck with four contacts for what seemed like an eternity.

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

After bouncing around the bands for a while, I ended up back on 20M. I was going to spend a few more minutes calling CQ before packing it in and accepting defeat. 

The propagation must have improved, because a pile-up appeared out of nowhere. Over the next few minutes, I made seven more contacts. That was enough to qualify the activation plus one for good measure. Those contacts included 3 park-to-park contacts.

As I was packing up I saw something I hadn’t encountered in almost 30 years of portable operation. A little pot-bellied pig stopped by to say hello. His owner was trying to take him hiking on a nearby trail, but the little guy seemed to prefer socializing with the other people in the park. Eventually he responded to his owner’s call and went off trotting down the trail.

Boss the pig stopped by to say hello. Apparently, I wasn't the only "ham" in the park today.
Boss the pig stopped by to say hello. Apparently, I wasn’t the only “ham” in the park today.

It wasn’t a great day for radio, but at least I made enough for a valid POTA activation. Radio notwithstanding, the weather was excellent, and I got to meet Boss the pig. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

Getting My QRP-Portable Fix

It’s been more than a month since my last QRP portable outing. I’m still recovering from my knee surgery, and my doctor hasn’t cleared me to drive yet. My (far) better half must have recognized that I was going through portable radio withdrawal, because, out of the blue, she offered to drive me somewhere to get my portable radio fix.

Naturally, I took her up on her offer. For my XYL’s sake, I wanted to keep it short, so I opted to do a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation at nearby Evansburg State Park. To keep things simple, I grabbed my KX3, a battery, and my Alexloop.

We ended up in a small picnic area. It’s still a little early for picnics, so we had the area to ourselves. While I set up the radio equipment, my XYL occupied herself with a book. 

WB3GCK at Evansburge State Park (K-1351/KFF-1351)
WB3GCK at Evansburg State Park (K-1351/KFF-1351)

It has been quite a while since I’ve used the Alexloop, so I was rusty at getting it tuned up. I was having some trouble finding a peak in the receiver noise. I concluded this location was just too quiet (RF-wise). Turning on the preamp during tune-up, I had no trouble finding the noise peaks. My five-watt signal seemed to get out fine with the loop.

I operated for about an hour, logging 16 contacts, including one park-to-park contact in Florida. There weren’t any exotic QSOs today, but I had a nice two-way QRP contact with N1MX near Boston. Mike was running two watts and sounded great. I also had a QSO with fellow Boschveldt QRP Club member, NK1N, over in New Jersey. It’s always a pleasure to work Glen.

After sitting for an hour, my knee was getting stiff. So, we packed up our stuff and loaded up the car. We took advantage of the great weather and went for a walk before heading home.

Many thanks to my incredible XYL for this brief field trip today. It sure felt great to be operating outdoors again.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Auburn Valley State Park Re-visit

I made another quick trip to Delaware this morning for a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation. My destination was Auburn Valley State (POTA K-4366, WWFF KFF-4366), a park I activated by in November of last year. Delaware state parks resume charging a parking fee on March 1st. It’s $4 for state residents and $8 for out-of-state vehicles like mine. So, I saved a few bucks today.

Parking fee sign at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware
Parking fee sign at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware

Like last time, I parked at the Yorklyn Bridge Trail trailhead. Once again, I used my KX3 at 5 watts with my 19-ft vertical mounted on the back of my truck. The last time I was here, there was a little of noise on the bands, but, fortunately, that noise was nowhere to be found today. 

My cell coverage wasn’t as good as the last time. Using the Wi-Fi in my truck, however, I managed to post a spot on the POTA website. Unfortunately, I fat-fingered the park designator and inadvertently spotted myself at a park in Iowa. Doh! I quickly made the correction and got on the air.

My parking spot at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware
My parking spot at Auburn Valley State Park in Delaware

I spent most of my time on 40M and quickly racked up 27 contacts. I moved up to 20M, which was good for another seven contacts. Although the 17M band seemed to be open, I only picked up one QSO there. After an hour and a half, I packed up and headed back north to Pennsylvania.

I ended up with 35 QSOs in the log with three park-to-park contacts. One of the park-to-park contacts was with W6LEN in California. The best DX of the day was with TI5JON in Costa Rica. 

Delaware parks are always fun for POTA. I swear, a Delaware location adds a few decibels to your signal.

73, Craig WB3GCK