Neal Thorpe Trail Hike

As part of my recent emphasis on exploring local trails, I did some hiking on a great little trail today. This gem of a trail has become my favorite local trail for a quick getaway.

The Neal Thorpe Trail begins at the Schuylkill Canal Park in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania. The trail is named in honor of the late founder of the Schuylkill Canal Association. It’s not a very long trail; it’s less than a mile in length. The scenery, though, is outstanding. Even though I was just across the river from the weekend hustle and bustle of downtown Phoenixville, I felt like I was out in the middle of nowhere.

Entrance to the Neal Thorpe Trail near the Schuylkill Canal Lock 60
Entrance to the Neal Thorpe Trail near the Schuylkill Canal Lock 60

From the trailhead, the trail passes through a ravine and parallels a small creek. According to an online description of the trail, it eventually turns left and heads up a steep climb. The problem, I found, is that there are lots of side trails and no trail markings.

Neal Thorpe Trail. The beginning of the trail follows a small creek through a scenic ravine.
Neal Thorpe Trail. The beginning of the trail follows a small creek through a scenic ravine.

At one point the trail crossed the creek and I found a trail heading off to the left up to the top of the ridge. It wasn’t marked but I went ahead and made the climb anyway. When I got to the top, I found no less than 4 trail options. Of course, none were marked. I continued on the trail straight ahead.

I headed down the trail a bit and decided to stop and set up my radio gear. I found a log about 20 yards off the trail, which I used for my operating position. I set up my portable vertical about 15 feet behind me.

WB3GCK sitting like a bump on a log along the Neal Thorpe Trail
WB3GCK sitting like a bump on a log along the Neal Thorpe Trail

Band conditions weren’t the best. There was a fair amount of fading and some static from storms heading in. Nonetheless, I worked a few Museum Ships Weekend (MSW) stations. They were all in Massachusetts, as it turns out. I also had an SKCC QSO with a station in North Carolina before packing up.

The hike back down into the ravine was a little tricky but uneventful. I took my time hiking back to enjoy the surroundings.

The Canal Park was busy with lots of people canoeing, kayaking, and just enjoying the beautiful weather. I found it interesting that, with all that activity in the park, I pretty much had the trail to myself. I briefly saw one other hiker off in the distance but that was it.

With the lack of trail markings, I’m still not sure if I was on the right trail or not. It doesn’t matter though; I found a great new place to operate out in the woods. And, it’s only minutes from home.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Basin Trail Hike

I’ve been making it a point to get out and visit some new (to me, at least) local trails. Even in this suburban area, we are blessed with a myriad of trails to explore. I was long overdue for some hiking and, with today’s excellent weather, I packed up my gear and headed out.

My target today was the Basin Trail outside of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. This out-and-back trail runs between Black Rock Sanctuary and a public boat launch on the Schuylkill River. It’s only about .75 miles each way but it is an interesting trail. This area was an industrial silt basin that was converted into a wetland habitat for waterfowl. The Basin Trail gives some great views of the wetlands area.

Wetlands along the Basin Trail
Wetlands along the Basin Trail

I’ve been having some knee issues, so this trail was a good length to start off with. The hike to the Schuylkill River was flat for the most part. The wetlands are on one side of the trail and there’s some dense woods on the other side. It was an easy hike, except for a couple of very muddy, low-lying spots. There was no option except to trudge forward through the mud.

Historic silt basin water control weir on the Basin Trail
Historic silt basin water control weir on the Basin Trail

Near the Schuylkill River end of the trail, I found a bit of a clearing and opted to operate from there. I set up my KX3 along the trail and put up my 19-foot vertical a little further back. As I was getting ready to operate, I was warmly greeted by a swarm of bugs. I sure was glad I had some insect repellent in my pack.

WB3GCK operating from the Basin Trail
WB3GCK operating from the Basin Trail

On the air, I wasn’t hearing much activity. I was getting lots of hits on the Reverse Beacon Network on 40 meters but no takers. I checked 30 and 20 meters with no luck.

I headed back to 40 meters to give it one last try before packing up. This time, I received a very loud call from fellow SKCC member, AB8EL in Ohio. Thanks to Don for keeping me from getting skunked. I then tuned down the band and heard Randy KB4QQJ in North Carolina operating in the “Bug Roundup” event. I was using a straight key but I went ahead and gave him a call anyway.

After I finished, I packed up for the hike back. I did a little better negotiating the muddy spots this time.

This wasn’t my best outing, radio-wise, but it was good to loosen up my knees and spend some time out in the woods.

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

Falmouth Boat Launch

On the last day of a week-long trip to Central Pennsylvania to see my new granddaughter, I took a quick side trip to scout out the trailhead for the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail. This trail is on the list of trails I want to explore by bike this year. While I was out there I did a little QRP-portable operating (of course).

The Northwest Lancaster County River Trail is a 14-mile trail that ends at the Falmouth Boat Launch near Bainbridge, PA. From my parking spot at the boat launch, I had a wide view of the scenic Susquehanna River. This spot is just a couple miles downstream from the infamous Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station.

My parking spot at the Falmouth Boat Launch on the Susquehanna River.
My parking spot at the Falmouth Boat Launch on the Susquehanna River.

Since it was a dreary, rainy day (but better than the snow we had yesterday), I set up my 19-ft Vertical on the back of the truck and operated my KX3 from the cab of the truck. With Three Mile Island up the river and another power plant directly across the river, I thought it would be a noisy location. As it turned out, it was surprisingly quiet. My only issue today was some heavy, weather-related QRN on 40M.

Falmouth Boat Launch information board
Falmouth Boat Launch information board

I’m only 1 contact away from reaching the SKCC Tribune x 5 award, so I once again focused on making SKCC contacts. Being a Tuesday afternoon, there wasn’t a whole lot of SKCC activity. I still made some interesting SKCC contacts, though. I worked two mobile stations from Ohio on 40 meters, WJ8Y and KD8ZM. KD8ZM was operating while driving. I was impressed! I also worked Hal K7SAX in Oregon. Hal’s signal was so strong, I had to quickly reach for the volume control on the KX3. Hal gave me a 569 and said I had an “amazing signal for QRP.” That was very nice to hear from a West Coast station.

It started raining heavily again, so I quickly took down the antenna and packed up. I ended up with 6 SKCC contacts but, unfortunately, none of them counted towards my Tx5 award. The quest for that final contact goes on.

The northern end of the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail
The northern end of the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail

I’m looking forward to bringing my bike along on a future visit and exploring the trail along the river. I’m sure there will be some QRP-portable operating from somewhere along the trail.

73, 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 bag. 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