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

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

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

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