Rainy Camping is Better Than No Camping

We’ve had a lot of great weather for our camping trips this year. We were bound to have a rainy weekend eventually, and I guess this weekend was it.

We headed back to nearby French Creek State Park (POTA K-1355/WWFF KFF-1355) near Elverson, Pennsylvania. We arrived mid-afternoon on Friday and got everything set up, including my 30-foot wire vertical. After dinner, my (far) better half and I enjoyed a campfire while listening to a ballgame on the radio. Before turning in for the night, I gave my KX3 and quick test to make sure everything was working.

I woke up Saturday to the sound of rain hitting the roof of our little trailer. It kept raining most of the day, with some heavy downpours at times. Outdoor activities were out, so we spent much of the day staying dry inside the trailer.

The WB3GCK "QRP Camper" at French Creek State Park on a rainy Fall weekend. My antenna is on the left, behind the camper.
The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” at French Creek State Park on a rainy Fall weekend. My antenna is on the left, behind the camper.

To help pass the time, I turned on the KX3 in search of some contacts. I found wall-to-wall RTTY signals across the 40-meter band. I eventually found an open spot on 40M and decided to do an impromptu POTA activation.

The cell service was flakey, but I was eventually able to spot myself. Not long after that, stations started responding to my CQs. I was running 10 watts and seemed to be getting out fine. I operated for about an hour and a half and ended up with around 25 contacts. Among those were seven park-to-park contacts.

The rain let up around dinner time on Saturday, and a heavy fog rolled in. We managed to make dinner outside and got a campfire going. Unfortunately, as soon as I got a decent fire going, it started raining again. We wound up sitting under the trailer’s awning about 25 feet away from the fire. Talk about social distancing! When the heavy rain started up again, we packed it in for the night.

This was our view from the camper. During a brief break from the rain on Saturday evening, the fog rolled in.
This was our view from the camper. During a brief break from the rain on Saturday evening, the fog rolled in.

The rain stopped at some point during the night, so Sunday morning was damp, dreary, and muddy. I got back on the radio to see if anyone was up as early as me. After spotting myself, I got on 80M. About eight early risers gave me a call. I picked up a couple more on 40M, but the band didn’t seem as strong as the day before. I ended up with 35 contacts in my log for the weekend.

It wasn’t the most pleasant weather this weekend, but I’ll still take a rainy camping trip over not camping at all. Besides, my (far) better half and I needed a little downtime after the busy week we had.

Thanks to everyone who pulled me out of the noise this weekend.

73, Craig WB3GCK

French Creek State Park in the Camper

Because of the ongoing issues with the pandemic, my (far) better half and I decided that we would be doing our camping close to home this year. Fortunately, French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania, is a beautiful park and only about 35 minutes from home.

We hitched up the trailer Friday afternoon and headed up to the campground. The weather was hot and humid, but it was a few degrees cooler than back home. 

Our campsite at French Creek State Park
Our campsite at French Creek State Park

After dinner, I put up my trusty 29.5-foot wire vertical back near the woods. I fired up my KX3 to make sure everything was working. As I tuned around on 40M, I heard KF9UP doing a POTA activation in Indiana. It took a couple of tries, but I worked him for a park-to-park contact. After that, I joined my (far) better half out at the campfire.

My trusty Jackite pole supporting a 29.5-foot wire vertical and a 9:1 unun
My trusty Jackite pole supporting a 29.5-foot wire vertical and a 9:1 unun

On Saturday, my daughter and her family were coming up to visit the campsite. I didn’t have a lot of time for ham radio, but I managed to squeeze in a quick POTA activation. (French Creek State Park is K-1355 for POTA and KFF-1355 for WWFF.)

Band conditions weren’t the best, and our site was in a low spot. Despite all of that, I was able to log 14 contacts in about 45 minutes or so. Four of them were park-to-park contacts. The grandkids arrived after that, and I spent the rest of the day hanging out with them.

I got on the radio for a bit on Sunday morning, while the coffee was perking. I didn’t hear much of anything on 40M, so I called CQ for a while. I was getting some decent spots on the Reverse Beacon Network, but I got no takers. Although we had the campsite until 3 PM, we decided to head home a little early to avoid packing up in the heat. 

After the issues we had on our last camping trip, it was nice to have a rain-free and problem-free weekend with the camper. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Boschveldt Summer Camp 2020

A few of the Boschveldt QRP Club members descended upon Pine Grove Furnace State Park over the weekend for some camping, hiking, and radio. Although the weather was hot, we had a rain-free weekend and a good time hanging out with old friends.

Located in Cumberland County in south-central Pennsylvania, Pine Grove Furnace is a beautiful park with a wooded campground. For this trip, there were four of us occupying two campsites: Ed WA3WSJ, Glen NK1N, John NU3E, and me, WB3GCK. 

(L-R) WB3GCK, WA3WSJ, NK1N, and NU3E at Pine Grove Furnace State Park
(L-R) WB3GCK, WA3WSJ, NK1N, and NU3E at Pine Grove Furnace State Park

On Saturday, Ed, Glen, and John set out to hike the Pole Steeple Trail, a short but steep trail leading to a scenic overlook. NK1N was planning to operate in the CQ Worldwide VHF Contest as a Hilltopper station, and the others went for the view. Ron WA8YIH and his family also came out for the day to join them for the hike. 

I decided not to challenge my knees with the steep climb and opted to stay back at the campsite for a POTA activation. (Pine Grove Furnace is K-1398 for POTA and KFF-1398 for WWFF.) I set up my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck and fired up my KX3 at 5 watts. 

WB3GCK set-up for a POTA/WWFF activation at Pine Grove Furnance State Park.
WB3GCK set-up for a POTA/WWFF activation at Pine Grove Furnance State Park.

Despite my low power, I managed to put 27 CW contacts in the log, including one park-to-park contact. At one point, I took a break from my activation to work NK1N on 6M SSB and 2M FM, along with NU3E on 2M FM. I was happy with the 30 contacts, given that this was a short, impromptu activation. Due to the lousy cell phone coverage in the campground, I was unable to spot myself. So, I’m grateful to the kind folks who stumbled upon my QRP signal and spotted me. 

NK1N operating in the CQ Worldwide VHF Contest from the Pole Steeple Trail. (Photo by NU3E)
NK1N operating in the CQ Worldwide VHF Contest from the Pole Steeple Trail. (Photo by NU3E)

Following the hike, the other guys stopped for well-deserved ice cream before returning to the campsite. Their tales of hiking the steep trail in the high heat confirmed that I was right in opting out. With my knee issues, that hike would have been risky for me. 

After breakfast on Sunday, we started packing up before the temperatures heated up again. On my two-hour drive home, I was able to talk to WA3WSJ and NU3E at various times on 2M, and that helped to make the drive seem shorter.

It was great hanging out with the Boschveldt crew again, but it’s also great to be back in air conditioning again.

72, Craig WB3GCK

POTA and WWFF at Colonel Denning State Park

Our camping season is rapidly drawing to a close. My (far) better half and I took our little camper out to Colonel Denning State Park (POTA K-1343, WWFF KFF-1343) for our next-to-the-last trip of the year.

Located in central Pennsylvania, Colonel Denning was a new park for us. Our campsite for the weekend small but more than adequate. This section of the campground was along a creek and in a valley. There were steep hills directly behind our site. Given the terrain, I didn’t have high hopes for my radio waves getting out.

The WB3GCK "QRP Camper" at Colonel Denning State Park. My antenna is that white object to the rear of the camper.
The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” at Colonel Denning State Park. My antenna is that white object to the rear of the camper.

We arrived on Friday afternoon. After getting the camper situated, I set up my antenna and gave the radio a quick test. Tuning around, I could hear some strong signals. That gave me some hope.

I didn’t get on the air until Saturday morning. It was only 35F overnight, so I hunkered down in the camper to operate. I made a few contacts, so I appeared to be getting out OK. On 40M, I worked WB9WIU in Indiana, some New York QSO Party stations, and had a 2-way QRP QSO with WA1LFD in New Hampshire.

Doubling Gap Creek in Colonel Denning State Park.
Doubling Gap Creek in Colonel Denning State Park near our campsite.

Later in the day, I spotted myself on the POTA and WWFF websites and spent an hour or so working park chasers. I worked a lot of regulars including W6LEN in California. I had park-to-park QSOs on two bands (20M and 17M) with N4CD in Texas. At one point, I received a call from EA2IF in Spain, who mistakenly thought I was a SOTA activator. In any event, I was happy to add him to my log. I ended my brief POTA/WWFF session with 23 stations in the log.

We awoke Sunday morning to a steady rain. According to the local forecast, the day was going to be a washout—they were right. I made one final contact with K9FW on 80M before tearing down and packing up for the trip home.

The bands were in good shape over the weekend. Despite the terrain, my QRP signals seemed to have found their way out of the valley. Colonel Denning is on our list for a return visit next year.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Father’s Day Camping in Maryland

I spent Father’s Day camping in Maryland. My (far) better half and I took our little camper down to Susquehanna State Park (POTA/WWFF K/KFF-1601). It was a beautiful weekend and our first time camping this year without rain.

Susquehanna State Park is relatively small but it’s one of my favorites. Our campsite this time was large, heavily-wooded, and secluded. It was just what we needed after a busy weekend — a peaceful place to relax.

When I wasn’t just goofing off, I was on the radio. My original plan was to put up an inverted L but there were just too many trees (and I was too lazy). So I stayed with my usual 29.5-foot vertical and 9:1 unun.

A conveniently-placed tree stump made a great operating table.
A conveniently-placed tree stump made a great operating table.

Instead of doing a formal POTA/WWFF activation, I focused on making SKCC contacts towards my “Senator” award. The bands were up and down but at times they were pretty good. Since we were “dry camping” without hookups, I didn’t have to contend with a bunch of noise from the trailer.

Breakfast time at the "QRP Camper" in Susquehanna State Park (MD).
Breakfast time at the “QRP Camper” in Susquehanna State Park (MD).

One of my first contacts on Friday was Florida on 40M. So, that was a good sign. On Saturday morning, there was some good SKCC activity on 30M. I worked several mid-West stations, including AK9A in Wisconsin. Bob was running 1 watt and putting out a great signal. Later in the day, I caught a good opening on 20M, netting me 579 reports from Louisiana and Manitoba, Canda. At the end of the weekend, my casual operating netted me 19 contacts. Six of them counted towards my SKCC “S Quest.”

Other than that, we caught up on much-needed sleep and ate lots of good food. Now, it’s back to the real world.

Life is good...
Life is good…

I’ll be busy this weekend getting stuff together for Field Day next weekend. I’ll be operating with the Boschveldt QRP Club (W3BQC). Give us a shout if you hear us!

72, Craig WB3GCK

WES Portable in Valley Forge

This weekend is the SKCC‘s monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. When I can, I like to go out and operate portable for at least part of the contest. I headed to Valley Forge National Historical Park for a couple of hours to take advantage of the great weather.

On arrival, I headed for a shady spot that I’ve used a few times before. I mounted my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck and set up a small table behind my truck. I fired up my KX3 and got on the air.

My set up in Valley Forge
My set up in Valley Forge

In short order, I logged several stations on 40M, including a POTA park-to-park QSO. (Valley Forge is POTA/WWFF K/KFF-0761.) Moving up to 20M, I made a few more contacts.

I decided to check 15M and I’m glad I did. I found several very strong stations who easily heard my meager 5-watt signal. I called CQ for a while and picked up a few more stations. I seemed to have a pipeline to Indiana and Illinois. It was great to hear some WES activity on 15M.

After a couple of hours, I started to run out of shade. I was getting hot and so was the KX3. I decided to pack up for the day. Besides, I had to do some preparations for a public service event early the next morning.

It was a great day for portable operating and I added a few more QSOs towards my SKCC Senator award.

72, Craig WB3GCK

The Passing of a QRP Legend

Browsing through my Facebook feed this morning, I was sad to learn of Joe Everhart’s passing. If you are at all involved with QRP or Parks on the Air, Joe’s callsign, N2CX, should be very familiar to you.

I first met Joe back in the early 90s, while we were both employed by the same company. With our common interest in QRP, we continued to cross paths through the years.

Joe was a talented engineer and freely shared his extensive technical knowledge with his fellow hams. Joe’s articles appeared in a variety ham radio publications. I particularly enjoyed his ongoing series of “Technical Quickies” in each issue of QRP Quarterly. The next issue of QRP Quarterly will contain his 109th and final “Quickie.” Joe was a tireless tinkerer and we all benefited from his experiments.

Joe Everhart N2CX during an NPOTA activation at Valley Forge National Historic Park. I took this picture during an "eyeball QSO" with Joe in April 2016.
Joe Everhart N2CX during an NPOTA activation at Valley Forge National Historic Park. I took this picture during an “eyeball QSO” with Joe in April 2016.

As an activator in Parks on the Air (POTA) and World-Wide Flora and Fauna (WWFF), Joe was a machine. He traveled all over, activating countless parks at a dizzying pace. As of this writing, Joe was number 3 on the POTA list of Top Activators of All Time. I always enjoyed reading the recaps of Joe’s activations on Facebook or the QRP-L mailing list. He was a natural story teller with a great sense of humor.

So, thank you, Joe, for the advice and guidance you provided to me and others over the years. Looking back at our many QSOs in my log, it’s sad to think there won’t be any more. It was an honor to know you and you will be missed.

Rest in peace, my friend.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Leaf Peepers QRP Contest

I was pleased to be able to participate in the first-ever running of the Leaf Peepers QRP Contest. This new contest is the brainchild of Tim W3ATB. Although the Fall colors are barely getting started here in southeastern Pennsylvania, it was a good reason to get out and do some portable operating.

In the spirit of killing two birds with one stone, I headed up to Evansburg State Park (K/KFF-1351) near Collegeville, Pennsylvania. I figured I would work the contest while making Parks on the Air (POTA) contacts. Although this park is only about 25 minutes away from my home, I have never done a POTA activation from there. Today was the day.

The Skippack Creek Loop Trail in Evansburg State Park
The Skippack Creek Loop Trail in Evansburg State Park

I found a nice parking spot across the road from some restrooms. (This is a major consideration for us old guys.) There were very few others nearby so I practically had the place to my self. I put my 19.5-foot vertical on the back of my truck and set up my KX3 in the cab.

My parking spot in Evansburg State Park
My parking spot in Evansburg State Park

I started out on 40M and found some fellow Leaf Peepers but the QSOs were coming at a “relaxed” pace. Given that there were 180 registered Leaf Peeper stations, I thought I would hear more activity. However, I was able to work stations from New Hampshire to Florida and out to Michigan on 40M. The band yielded 7 Leaf Peepers before I switched over to 20M.

On 20M, my CQs yielded one more Leaf Peeper. Since the SKCC QSO Party was underway, I put the KX3 in straight key mode and flipped my paddles on their side to create a straight key. It’s awkward but it works. I picked up two SKCC contacts before pulling the plug.

Here are some of today’s highlights:

  • My second QSO was with Tim W3ATB, creator of the contest and Leaf Peeper #1.
  • I had a park-to-park QSO with Joe N2CX. Joe was at Washington Crossing State Park (K-1634) over in New Jersey.
  • I had another SKCC QSO with Bert F6HKA. He always has a great signal and is usually able to pull my QRP signal out of the noise.

After a little less than 2 hours, I had to pack up to run some errands before heading home. All in all, it was a fun outing and my 10 contacts were enough to qualify as a POTA activation. I don’t know why I waited so long to activate this park.

Thanks to Tim W3ATB for coming up with this contest. I always enjoy these QRP field contests and I’m looking forward to operating in this one again next year.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Fall Camping in Elk Neck State Park

My XYL and I took the “QRP camper” back down to Elk Neck State Park in Maryland for the weekend. We had a couple of days of nice Fall weather but that did little to offset the mediocre propagation. By the end of the weekend, the weather became as bad as the band conditions.

When we arrived on Friday I set up my usual 29.5-foot vertical. I initally gave some thought to putting up an inverted L but I didn’t see a conveniently-placed tree to support the far end. In hindsight, having more wire up in the air would have been a good idea this weekend. I made a couple of contacts to make sure things were working before getting a campfire started.

On Saturday, I worked an assortment of stations (SOTA, special events, SKCC, etc.) but it seemed like almost every QSO was a struggle. With an A Index of 27, that wasn’t too surprising. After several attempts, I finally got through to N8N in Michigan on 40M for a park-to-park contact. Hank N8XX was operating with a special event callsign for National Trails Day. He was operating from the North Country Trail (KFF-1555).  (Elk Neck State Park is KFF-1569.)

The WB3GCK camper on a rainy morning in Elk Neck State Park in Maryland. My Jackite pole is strapped to the lantern post on the left.
The WB3GCK camper on a rainy morning in Elk Neck State Park in Maryland. My Jackite pole is strapped to the lantern post on the left.

The beautiful weather was short-lived. By Sunday morning, a steady rain had moved in, so I hunkered down with the KX3 in the camper to give the bands one more shot. I ended up with a very nice chat on 80M with NS3X. Mark is located in north-central Maryland and was a new SKCC number for my log. After I signed with Mark, I packed up the radio and began the unpleasant task of breaking camp in the rain.

I only logged a paltry 8 contacts over the weekend but that was enough to reach the 44 contacts needed for a WWFF-KFF activation.

We have two more trips planned for October before it’s time to winterize the camper and put it into hibernation until Spring. Time sure flies…

72, Craig WB3GCK

Recuperating at Codorus State Park

My XYL and I spent the weekend camping at Codorus State Park (K/KFF-1342) in south-central Pennsylvania.  When we were here last year, we had a weekend of bad weather.  This year, it was a tale of bad traffic, bad knees and bad propagation.

With a late start and heavy traffic, it was dark by the time we arrived at Codorus on Friday. After setting up the trailer it was getting late so I decided to wait until morning to set up my antenna.  We were in a heavily-wooded camp site, so my antenna wound up surrounded by large trees.

My antenna at Codorus State Park. The trees helped to maintain a low profile but probably didn't do much for its efficiency.
My antenna at Codorus State Park. The trees helped to maintain a low profile but probably didn’t do much for its efficiency.

The day before we left for Codorus, I injured my knee and paid a visit to the local urgent care facility.  The doctor said I needed to stay off of it for a few days and ice it several times each day.  Following my doctor’s orders, I spent much of the weekend relaxing in my reclining camp chair with my KX3 on a table next to me.

Icing my injured knee while making contacts.
Icing my injured knee while making contacts.

I didn’t do an announced activation at Codorus; instead, I just tuned around making contacts where I could find them.  Along with some Ohio and Kansas QSO Party stations, I worked an interesting assortment of stations.   On Sunday morning, I woke up to the news that there was a geomagnetic storm in progress.  The dead bands confirmed that; I only managed a few more contacts over the rest of the weekend.  Fortunately, I made more than enough contacts on Saturday for a qualifying POTA activation.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • I made park-to-park contacts with Joe N2CX at K/KFF-1461 and K/KFF-1452 in Wisconsin.
  • On Saturday afternoon, Ron WB3KVR answered my CQ on 40M.  It turned out that Ron was also camping in Codorus and operating QRP.  After we signed, I drove over to his campsite for an “eyeball QSO.”  Ron stopped by my campsite the next day to see my set up.
  • On Saturday evening, I worked LZ1146SPS in Bulgaria on 30M.  The unusual callsign is for a special event by the Bulgarian Radio Club Blagovestnik.
  • I wrapped things up on Monday morning with a contact on 30M with K0RU/M in Kansas City, Kansas.  Rob was operating while driving to work.  I’m always amazed by hams who can carry on a CW conversation while driving.  Very impressive!

Although the bands could have been better, I still enjoyed my lazy weekend resting my ailing knee and playing around on the radio.

72, Craig WB3GCK