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

White Clay Creek NPOTA Activation

I took advantage of another nice Fall day and did some hiking along White Clay Creek.  Since White Clay Creek is a National Wild and Scenic River (WR39), I did a short NPOTA activation along the way.  I previously activated this unit but I figured I would make a small contribution towards getting the NPOTA program to the 1 million QSO mark by the end of the year.

White Clay Creek Wild and Scenic River. Taken on the Pennsylvania side of the White Clay Creek Preserve.
White Clay Creek Wild and Scenic River. Taken on the Pennsylvania side of the White Clay Creek Preserve.

I hiked a section of the Mason-Dixon Trail that runs between Pennsylvania and Delaware and closely follows the creek.  As I traveled down the trail, I searched for a decent place to put up an antenna.  Not finding one, I eventually came to the Delaware state line.  About a quarter of a mile into Delaware, I got lucky.

Obligatory selfie at the Delaware state line.
Obligatory selfie at the Delaware state line.

I came across a clearing that was well within the 25-foot requirement for activating a wild and scenic river.  There was a tree branch that was just begging for me to hang my antenna there.  Using a water bottle for a weight, I got my line over a 35-foot branch on the first toss.  Believe me, that doesn’t happen very often.  I strung up a 29.5-foot wire with a 9:1 unun and 18-feet of coax.  I quickly set up my KX3 and was on the air a few minutes earlier than planned.

Operating along the Mason-Dixon Trail in White Clay Creek Preserve. The creek is behind me just beyond the trees.
Operating along the Mason-Dixon Trail in White Clay Creek Preserve. The creek is behind me just beyond the trees.

I started out on 40 meters.  Despite all the Sweepstakes contest stations, that turned out to be the best band for me today.  I quickly got the required 10 contacts and then some.  I eventually moved up to 30 meters and worked a couple there.  I next moved up to 20 meters but the band was going crazy with the contest.  I tuned up to 14.102 MHz and eventually worked a California station.  With no other takers, I headed back to 30 meters and picked up one more there.  I ended my brief session with 21 contacts in my log.  I packed up and enjoyed a leisurely hike back to my truck.

It was a nice way to spend the afternoon.  I need to get back down to this area to explore some of the other trails.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Monocacy Hill Hike

After a week of mostly chilly temperatures, we were blessed with some unseasonably warm temperatures today.  With temperatures approaching 80 degrees (F), I decided to do a little hiking on Monocacy Hill.

Monocacy Hill Trailhead
Monocacy Hill Trailhead

The Monocacy Hill Recreation Area is a little gem of a place, tucked away in Berks County, Pennsylvania.  Even though it’s only about 10 miles away, I had never heard of it until I worked WA3WSJ there in December of last year.   This area has some beautiful hiking trails.

Monocacy Hill Trail
Monocacy Hill Trail

I hiked in about a mile so to the top of the hill and set up my KX3 in the middle of large group of boulders.  Since I didn’t know what to expect, antenna-wise, I brought my AlexLoop along in my backpack.  In a few minutes, I was up and running.

My operating position on top of Monocacy Hill
My operating position on top of Monocacy Hill

I started out on 20 meters and immediately came across Joe N2CX who was doing an NPOTA activation from the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial Affiliated Area (AA03) in Philadelphia.  Joe had quite a pile-up going, so I waited until it thinned out a bit and worked him.  I amazed that I was able to work Philly on 20 meters.  I guess my elevation might have helped.

Monocacy Hill Trail. I encounterd a rock or two on the trail.
I encountered a rock or two on the trail.

After that, the bands seemed to fade out on me.  I tried calling CQ on 30 meters and 40 meters with no luck.  In between attempts, I had some nice chats about ham radio with some of the curious hikers going by.  I checked the Band Conditions website and it looked like propagation had taken a turn for the worse.  I decided to pack up and enjoy the hike back to the trailhead.

It was a great day for a little hiking.  There probably won’t be any more days like this one for quite a while.  A few more contacts would have been nice, though.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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Schuylkill River Trail Ride

I headed out this afternoon for a bike ride along the Schuylkill River Trail.  I pulled off the trail where it passes through Valley Forge National Historical Park.  I wanted to ride across Sullivan’s Bridge, which opened recently.  This pedestrian and biking bridge crosses the Schuylkill River and provides a connection to other trails.

After riding across the new bridge and back, I made a pit stop in the Betzwood Picnic Area.  I wanted to do some testing with an antenna that I’ve been playing around with lately.  It’s simply a lightweight, 19-foot vertical fed through a 9:1 unun.  It’s built around an inexpensive, lightweight, Chinese fishing pole I bought on eBay.

I set up at a picnic table under a shady tree.  I mounted the vertical on a tripod, using an adapter that I cobbled together from PVC pipe this morning.  The internal tuner in the KX3 tuned it up on every band from 40 meters through 6 meters.

My setup in the Betzwood Picnic Area in Valley Forge National Historical Park.
My setup in the Betzwood Picnic Area in Valley Forge National Historical Park.

I didn’t hear any activity around the 30 and 20 meter QRP watering holes, so I moved down to 40 meters.  Forty meters is the least efficient band for this antenna but I worked a few Ohio QSO Party stations.  I also worked Joe N2CX who was doing an NPOTA activation in Ohio (NS78).  I didn’t set out to activate Valley Forge today but I sent Joe the NPS unit number (HP46).  I have to confess that I cranked my power up to 10 watts for the QSO with Joe.  I think that’s the first time I’ve used more than 5 watts on the HF bands in the past 20 years or so.

Heading back to the Pawlings Road Trail Head along the Schuylkill River Trail
Heading back to the Pawlings Road Trail Head along the Schuylkill River Trail

Feeling comfortable that this short vertical seems to be making some radio waves, I packed up the bike and got back on the trail for the ride back.

It was a nice day but I’m glad I got my ride in before it really started warming up.

72, Craig WB3GCK

 

Mid-Week QRP-Portable Fix

My free time has been somewhat limited lately, so I’ve been itching to get out for some QRP-portable operating.  A rare mid-week opportunity presented itself, so I decided to take a quick bike ride and make a few ham radio contacts while I was out.

I threw some radio gear into my pannier bags and headed out on the Schuylkill River and Perkiomen trails.  Before heading back, I made a stop at Lower Perkiomen Valley Park.  There weren’t many people around on a Wednesday morning.

My first attempt to put a line into a tree got some great elevation but I missed my target branch completely.  My second attempt caught a lower branch.  Since I was limited on time, I decided to go with that.  My 30-foot wire ended up as a sloper.  I used my bike as a tie-off for my halyard and attached my 9:1 unun to one of the handlebars.

My operating location along the Perkiomen Trail
My operating location along the Perkiomen Trail

I tuned around 30 meters and heard Roger KO5Q calling CQ from Georgia.  We chatted for a few minutes but there was some deep fading on the band.  Roger said my signal came up to 599 for a bit and faded quickly.

I moved up to 20 meters and called CQ.  Enzo VE3VTG called me from the Toronto area.  He had a great signal.  If I copied correctly, he said he was running 2 watts into a beam.

After that, I packed up the bike for the ride back to the trailhead.  The beautiful weather and a couple of QRP-portable contacts were enough to tide me over until the QRP Skeeter Hunt this weekend.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Captain John Smith Trail Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoIt had been a while since I did a National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activation,  so I decided to activate the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (TR21).  The Captain John Smith Trail is a water trail that includes the Susquehanna River up to the Conowingo Dam.  Since I’m a member of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, I thought I would explore the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail and activate TR21 somewhere along the way.  Despite my best efforts, things didn’t go as well as I had planned.

After suffering through a huge traffic jam due to a downed tree on a major highway, I arrived at the trailhead later than planned.  As I pulled into Fisherman’s Park just below the Conowingo Dam, I was greeted by a large group of vultures.  I think they foreshadowed the type of outing I was about to have.

A group of vultures at Fisherman's Park
On arrival, I was greeted by a large group of vultures. An omen, perhaps?

I unloaded my bike and headed out down the trail.   During my ride, I scouted out potential operating locations along the trail.  The pickings were slim.  For most of its 2.5-mile length, the trail parallels the Susquehanna River.  There is a very dense tree canopy over the trail.  On one side of the trail, there’s a sharp drop-off  down to the river.  The inland side of the trail is mostly wetlands.  I found a picnic table off to the side of the trail and stopped there on the ride back.

Remnants of the old railway along the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail. The railway was used to transport materials when the Conowingo Dam was under construction.
Remnants of the old railway along the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail. The railway was used to transport materials when the Conowingo Dam was under construction.

The temperature today was in the low 90s but it was comfortable while I was riding.  Once I stopped, though, the humidity under the dense tree canopy was unbearable.  I decided to ride back to the trailhead and operate from the parking lot.

This is where I had originally planned to operate along the trail.
This is where I had originally planned to operate along the trail.

I parked in the only shady spot I could find and set up my trusty 29.5-foot vertical.  My chosen spot had three major problems:  1) The shade was only short-lived, 2) the noise levels were very high,  and, 3) there was a steep hill behind me.  Undeterred, I started out on 40 meters and immediately got a call from  a station in South Carolina.  I continued to call CQ with no takers.  After that, I switched back and forth between 40 and 20 but no luck.  I made some changes to my antenna but still no luck.

My eventual operating location. Notice the receding shade and the large hill behind me.
My eventual operating location. Notice the receding shade and the large hill behind me.

The heat was starting to become too much for this old man.  My cell phone was overheating and going into some sort of self-protection mode.  Even though my KX3 was only set for 5 watts, it started feeling a bit warm.  On top of that, some biting flies decided to have lunch inside my truck and I was the main course.   After an hour or so, I had enough and packed up.  I waved goodbye to my vulture friends and headed home.

The Conowingo Dam
The Conowingo Dam

Although it wasn’t a successful NPOTA activation, I at least had a nice bike ride on an interesting trail.  I didn’t make the minimum number of contacts for a valid activation but, then again, I didn’t get skunked.   I’ll have to give TR21 another try later this year.  Next time, I’ll move further downstream from the hydroelectric plant.

I plan to do two more activations this week.  Hopefully, my luck will be better.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

Holiday Weekend Bike Ride

For a long, holiday weekend, it’s been pretty busy around here.  I managed to get in a bike ride this morning on the nearby Perkiomen Trail.

On my way back to the trailhead, I stopped for a brief QRP session.  I tossed a line up over an opportune branch and hoisted up a 29.5-foot wire.  It wasn’t the highest branch but it let me operate under a shady tree.  I laid another 29.5-foot wire out on the ground for a counterpoise.  I’ve had very good success with this configuration on many occasions, while feeding it through a 4:1 unun.  Today, I tried attaching the wires directly to my KX3 using a BNC-to-binding post adapter.  The KX3 managed to tune it with an SWR less than 2:1 on 40 and 30 meters.  On 20 meters, however, I couldn’t get it below 5:1.  So, I quickly hooked up the 4:1 unun and about 6 feet of coax.

Once again, I pressed my bike into service as an antenna support. One handlebar grip has a 4:1 unun attached to it. The other grip is where I tied off the line used to hoist the antenna.
Once again, I pressed my bike into service as an antenna support. One handlebar grip has a 4:1 unun attached to it. The other grip is where I tied off the line used to hoist the antenna.

Not hearing much activity on 20 meters, I tuned around 30 meters and heard W9CBT calling CQ from the Chicago area.  The QSB was bad and we just couldn’t complete the QSO.

My station setup today. The food storage container houses LiFePO4 battery.
My station setup today. The food storage container houses LiFePO4 battery.

Down on 40 meters, I had a quick exchange with K2D in Connecticut, one of the 13 Colonies special event stations.  I called CQ on 7.030 and wound up having a nice two-way QRP QSO with John, W3FSA, in Portland, Maine.  We managed to hang in there despite some deep fading at times.

After that, I quickly packed up and rode the last few miles back to the trailhead.  The weather was perfect and I would have liked to stay longer.  However, I needed to get home to put some ribs on the smoker.  I have my priorities in order!

I wish all of my U.S. ham friends a happy and safe 4th of July.

72, Craig WB3GCK