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

Perkiomen Trail Ride

I took advantage of some great weather this morning to get in a bike ride at one of my favorite places to ride.  The Perkiomen Trail is a nicely paved, multi-use trail that parallels the scenic Perkiomen Creek.  I did an 8-mile out-and-back ride this morning.  On the way back, I stopped in the Lower Perkiomen Valley Park to do a little QRP-portable.

I was using another experimental antenna today.  I figured my short 19-foot vertical would do reasonable well on the higher bands and would at least be somewhat usable on 40 meters.  The KX3 had no problems loading it up from 40 through 6 meters.  A quick check of the Reverse Beacon Network showed more spots on 40 meters than the higher bands.  That seemed to track with what the Band Conditions website was showing at the time.  With the deep QSB on the bands, I really couldn’t tell how well the antenna was working.

My operating position along the Perkiomen Trail
My operating position along the Perkiomen Trail

On 30 meters, I heard WB8AJR calling CQ from Akron, Ohio.  It took a few tries for him to get my callsign and we struggled to exchange our basic information.  His signal was ranging from a solid 579 down to barely perceivable.  So, I’m sure my 5 watts and short vertical dropped out completely when the band dipped.

On 40 meters, I faintly heard N2CX coming on the air for an NPOTA activation.  I tried calling a few times with no success.  After a few minutes, lots of chasers started showing up and I moved on.

Up on 20 meters, I heard Paul W0RW calling CQ with a special event callsign, W7L.  After several calls, I think he recognized my callsign.  He gave me a 339.  He was about the same but the QSB was very deep on 20 meters.  It didn’t sound like he got my information.  [Update:  Paul emailed me the next day saying I made it into his W7L log.]

The nice part about combining ham radio with cycling is that when the bands aren’t cooperating, I at least get some nice scenery and a little exercise.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Horse-Shoe Trail Bike Ride

I headed out this morning with the dual purposes of getting in a bike ride and doing a little portable QRP operating.  My destination was a 3-mile section of the historic Horse-Shoe Trail that runs through Warwick County Park.

I had never been on this section of the trail before, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  It’s a beautiful trail and very well maintained.  The stone and sometimes rocky surface was better suited for a mountain bike.  My old hybrid bike was able to handle it with no problems, though.  At the bottom of a rocky hill, I came across an open field and decided to set up the radio there.

Operating from the Horse-Shoe Trail Field North.
Operating from the Horse-Shoe Trail Field North.

I set up an experimental antenna that uses a compact 20-foot telescopic pole I picked up recently on eBay.  It’s basically a variation of the Rybakov Vertical with a 25-foot wire fed through a 4:1 unun.  I laid out one 25-foot radial on the ground.  I mounted the pole by simply placing it over a screwdriver shoved into the ground.  Since the wire is longer than the pole, I attached the unun to the bike’s handlebar and ran a short coax down to my KX3.  The KX3’s ATU matched it easily from 40 through 10 meters.

My operating position
My operating position

I called CQ on 20 meters and had a nice chat with Lynn, NG9D, near Chicago.  I think he thought I was crazy using an untested antenna out on a trail.  (I had a backup!)

Moving down to 30 meters, I worked Mike, W9KY, in Indianapolis.  I finished up on 40 meters with a short 2-way QRP QSO with Jack, WD4E, in North Carolina and a nice QSO with NY2MC aboard the USS Ticonderoga in Whitehall, NY.  I did a little more experimenting with the antenna before packing up the bike for the ride back.

My trusty bike loaded up on the ride back to the trailhead
My trusty bike loaded up on the ride back to the trailhead

As I expected, this antenna isn’t a real barn burner on 40 meters but it seems to work well enough for casual operating.  The pole weighs about 12 ounces and collapses down to about 26 inches, making it easy to transport via bike or backpack.   I definitely need to make some refinements to the antenna, though.  If it works out, it will be the subject of a future post.

It was a nice morning in a beautiful park.  I’m looking forward to exploring some of the other trails.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Delaware Water Gap Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoEach year, I spend a weekend in January with some QRP friends in the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area.  We’re all members of a loosely-organized group of QRPers known as the Boschveldt QRP Club.  We stay in a cabin at the Mohican Outdoor Center (MOC) near Blairstown, New Jersey.  We have come to call this annual trip, “Camp Run-a-MOC.”  This year, the Boschveldt crew convened Camp Run-a-MOC over the weekend of January 15-17.  There were four QRPers in attendance:  WA3WSJ, NK1N, KB3SBC and me.  As a bonus, this year’s trip coincided with the National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) event.

Mohican Outdoor Center is run by the Appalachian Mountain Club.  It is located within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and is popular stop-over point for Appalachian Trail through hikers.

Our home for the weekend at Mohican Outdoor Center
Our home for the weekend at Mohican Outdoor Center

Day 1

I rolled into camp around mid-day on Friday and the others were waiting for me in the parking lot.  I got out of my truck and threw my backpack into WA3WSJ’s truck and we took off for a hike up to the Catfish Fire Tower.  We hiked up the Fire Tower road and connected up with the Appalachian Trail. This location was an NPOTA “twofer.”  It encompasses both the Delaware Water Gap (RC07) and the Appalachian Trail (TR01).

Hiking to Catfish Fire Tower. L-R: KB3SBC, NK1N, WB3GCK. (Photo by WA3WSJ)
Hiking to Catfish Fire Tower. L-R: KB3SBC, NK1N, WB3GCK. (Photo by WA3WSJ)

While the others were operating pedestrian mobile, I hiked a little further down the trail in search of a good place to hang my EFHW antenna.  There weren’t a lot of good options.  There were a lot of dense woods up on this high ridge and the trees weren’t particularly tall.  I eventually got my antenna up in an inverted vee configuration.  It was NVIS at best.  I set up my YouKits HB-1B on a convenient flat rock and got on the air.

Catfish Fire Tower
Catfish Fire Tower

I worked one station on 20M CW but I didn’t hear much other activity.  I moved down to 40M and started calling CQ.  I fired off a quick text message to my friend, Carter N3AO, down in Virginia.  A few minutes later he answered my CQ.  After he spotted me on the cluster, I was soon met with a hoard of very strong signals calling me.  However, the pile-up was short-lived and the activity quickly slowed down.  About that time, the wind was blowing across the top of the ridge and it started getting cold up there.  I packed up and rejoined the others for the hike back down the hill.  I ended the day with 17 QSOs, most of them on 40M CW.

Operating along the Appalachian Trail near Catfish Fire Tower
Operating along the Appalachian Trail near Catfish Fire Tower (Photo by NK1N)

Day 2

After breakfast, we all packed up and headed out to the Crater Lake area to activate RC07.  While, the others continued on to Crater Lake, I pulled off into the Blue Mountain Lake trailhead parking lot.  It was a bit colder than the day before, so I opted to operate “stationary-mobile” from my truck.  I set up a 30 foot vertical on the back of my truck, using my bike rack mount, and set up my station in the truck.

Stationary-mobile setup at the Blue Mountain Lakes trailhead
Stationary-mobile setup at the Blue Mountain Lakes trailhead

I worked several stations on 20M including WA3WSJ who had hiked up to Kittatinny Mountain for a combined SOTA (W2/NJ-003) and NPOTA activation.  I heard a lot of activity on 30 meters, so I moved there next.  That turned out to be a very productive move.  I finished out my session on 20 meters.  I worked NK1N who was with KB3SBC several miles away at Crater Lake.

The Boschveldt QRPers at Crater Lake. L-R: WB3GCK, WA3WSJ, NK1N, KB3SBC. (Photo by WA3WSJ)
The Boschveldt QRPers at Crater Lake. L-R: WB3GCK, WA3WSJ, NK1N, KB3SBC. (Photo by WA3WSJ)

The skies were starting to look threatening, so I started packing up.  Over 2m simplex, WA3WSJ told me he had started hiking back down to Crater Lake.  I drove over to Crater Lake to join up with the rest of the crew and we soon headed back to the cabin for lunch.  It was a short session but I ended with 21 QSOs.

Once again, we had a great winter QRP getaway at Mohican Outdoor Center.  The Boschveldt QRPers are already making plans for next year.

72, Craig WB3GCK

QRP Joy on Mount Misery

I can’t believe it– three decent weekends in a row.  Thanks to El Niño, we’re headed for record temperatures this weekend.  I definitely needed to take advantage of these mild temperatures.  So, I drove down to Valley Forge National Historic Park to do some portable operating.  I had planned to operate from Mount Misery (aka Valley Forge Mountain) for a while but never got around to it.

Following some directions that my friend, Carter N3AO,  gave me, I hiked up the Mount Misery Trail.  Carter operated a QRP field contest there years ago and said it was a nice spot.  I hiked in about a mile and branched off onto the Horse-Shoe Trail for another half-mile or so.  Most of the other hikers seemed to be staying on the Mount Misery Trail.  I figured the Horse-Shoe Trail would be more secluded.  I was right.  The only other person I saw was a Park Watch volunteer.  She came by as I was trying to figure out where to hang my antenna.  I’m sure she was wondering why I was standing there staring up into the trees.

The intersection of the Mount Misery and Horseshoe trails.
The intersection of the Mount Misery and Horseshoe trails.

My biggest challenge of the day was getting my antenna up in the trees.  I continued to hike looking for something that resembled a clearing.  The woods up there are dense and there is a lot of brush just waiting to snag my antenna wire.  After about 20  minutes, I managed to get my LNR EFT-10/20/40 EFHW antenna up.  I set up my trusty YouKits HB-1B and got on the air.

My operating position on Mount Misery.
My operating position on Mount Misery.

I called CQ on 20 meters and AF5BA answered from Arkansas.  After that, I got a call from fellow QRP Polar Bear, WA8REI.  Ken was also QRP portable, operating from his trailer in a deer camp in Michigan.  Next up was VE1BA in Nova Scotia.  John’s  5-watt signal was booming into Pennsylvania.

I moved down to 40 meters, but I didn’t hear a lot of activity.  I tuned around and heard NM1I calling CQ from Massachusetts.  I gave him a call and we had a nice chat.

I took a break to stretch my legs and take a few pictures before heading back to 20 meters.  I worked the VE9CRM club station in New Brunswick.  The operator was VE9BEL.  Their club station was putting out a very strong signal.

WB3GCK operating on Mount Misery in Valley Forge, PA
WB3GCK operating on Mount Misery in Valley Forge, PA

I was getting ready to shut down when I heard KG0YR calling me from Missouri.  Dave was running 1 watt and had a nice signal.  On his heels was K4AKC from Alabama.  Tom was running 5 watts.  I hated to cut our QSO short, but I needed to pack up and hike back down the hill.

All in all, it was a productive 2 hours.

Trail marker on the Horseshoe Trail
Trail marker on the Horseshoe Trail

I did have one take away from today’s outing.  I have been using 20 lb. test monofilament line with a 2-ounce lead sinker to get my antenna up.  It works great, but the line becomes completely invisible in the woods.  I need to get some high-visibility line and paint the sinker.

Across from Mount Misery is another mount named… Wait for it…  Mount Joy!  That’s on my list for a future outing.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

December Bike Ride

It’s hard to believe, but this was the second weekend in a row with unseasonably warm temperatures.  So, I loaded up my bike and went for a ride.  I rode about 2 miles along the Schuylkill River Trail and another mile or so on the Perkiomen Trail.  I stopped in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park to do a little QRP portable.

My transportation and operating position
My transportation and operating position

I found a picnic table near a nice stand of trees.  I tossed a line up in one of the trees and pulled up an experimental 42-foot end-fed wire.  I used the handlebars of my bike to secure the 4:1 unun I was using.  I laid out a couple of radials on the ground.

My bike served to support the feedpoint of my antenna.
My bike served to support the feedpoint of my antenna.

I fired up my trusty YouKits HB-1B and checked 20 meters.  I didn’t hear much going on there.  After a few unanswered CQs, I tried 30 meters.  My Elecraft T1 tuner couldn’t get the SWR as low as I would like it, so I went down to 40 meters.  I called CQ a couple of times and Keith, KB8FE, answered from the Akron, Ohio, area.

My operating position
My operating position

After a short QSO with Keith, I called “QRZ?” and Chuck KY3P gave me a call from New York.  I had a nice two-way QRP ragchew with Chuck, despite some fading on the band.

After signing with Chuck, I did a few quick experiments with my antenna.  By that time, the sun was starting to go down and I could feel the temperatures starting to drop.  So, I loaded up my bike and headed back.  I got back to the trailhead just as the sun was setting over the trees.

When December days like this show up here in Pennsylvania, you just have to take advantage of them.

WB3GCK operating on a beautiful December afternoon
WB3GCK operating on a beautiful December afternoon

73, Craig WB3GCK