Today I finally accomplished something that I had been putting off for a long time. In fairness, my life has been pretty crazy these last few years, but I could have done this sooner if I had put my mind to it. I’ve bagged a small number of POTA hunter QSOs over the last few years, but I have never successfully activated a park until today.
It has been a hot weekend here at the new estate, and the family decided to do what many residents of the Willamette Valley do when it gets uncomfortably hot: visit the Oregon Coast. If you are not familiar with the climate here, the Oregon Coast has a very consistent climate much of the time, with the typical summer high temperature being in the mid-60s (F) and often overcast even when a five mile drive to the east will reveal sunny skies. It’s a perfect refuge for those fleeing the heat.
So we loaded up the entire family, including Noodle the beagle, into the car and made the 1.5 hour drive from here to Lincoln City. I specifically talked the rest of the family into letting me pick a POTA park and spending some time operating while they enjoyed the beach. My choice was Gleneden Beach State Recreation Area, a nice beach a few miles south of Lincoln City proper that I was hoping wouldn’t be quite as busy as the rest of the town usually is on these hot days. I hadn’t been here in years so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
We arrived late morning and fortunately the parking lot only had a handful of cars in it. I helped the family lug our chairs and other stuff down to the beach and then went back up to near the parking lot area to choose a picnic bench to claim for operating. I almost picked one tucked away in a nearly invisible back portion of the park, because introvert, but it was near the restroom and had no view of the ocean, so I decided against it. Instead I took a bench that was overlooking the beach itself but tucked in a place where I hoped there would be little foot traffic, since there was really nothing to walk to from that area.
- Icom IC-705
- Bioenno Power BLF-12045W 12V 4.5Ah LiFePO4 Battery Pack
- SOTABEAMS Tactical Mini Mast
- SOTABEAMS Band Hoppper III linked doublet antenna
- CWMORSE.US Double Pocket Paddle
I had only set up the Band Hopper III once before, and it had been a few years, so it took me a little bit to figure out/remember how to deploy it properly, but it went up reasonably quickly. The antenna was backed up to a clump of vegetation (as you can see above), so the only bit of my antenna that was really out there in the park space where people might be walking through was the single guy line. This seemed prudent in a relatively small park area. Since the Band Hopper III is a resonant doublet and the Icom IC-705 is a shack-in-a-box, it took very little additional time to complete the station deployment and get QRV.
I spotted myself on 20 meters SSB and began operations near the top of the band. I was hoping to knock out my requisite 10 QSOs quickly as I often see the POTA YouTubers doing, but that would not be happening this day. I don’t think the problem was with me or my equipment. I think the bands were in terrible shape, I imagine because of the effects of solar flare activity on the ionosphere. The entire 20 meter waterfall was pitiful looking. I scrounged five QSOs on 20m SSB before thinking that I might be able to do better on 40 meters.
How wrong I was. The 40 meter waterfall was even more empty than 20 meters. After letting the voice keyer call CQ on 40m SSB for a while and hearing nought, I went back up to 20 to try to salvage the activation. A lot more voice keyer CQing got me two more QSOs (both from British Columbia) and then nothing more. At this point it had been more than a hour that I had been at it, and I needed to wrap things up since the rest of the family was waiting for me.
In a sure sign of desperation, I decided to make the one move that I was pretty sure would net me the easiest QSOs with my current loadout: operate CW. Mind you, I haven’t made a CW QSO in about six months, and before that it had been more than a year. I gathered my courage, plugged in my paddle, set up my memory keyer, set the keying speed to 13 WPM, and let ‘er rip. Not surprisingly, even in the lousy propagation conditions, it didn’t take me long to get the remaining QSOs that I needed for a successful activation. Woohoo!
Wow, it felt good to finally get that first activation completed! Doubly so knowing that the rest of the family was waiting on me towards the end and I had to hustle if I wanted to get the required number of contacts. I had a lot of curious onlookers, and a few who flat-out asked me what I was doing. No one seemed disturbed and everyone who talked to me was friendly, so that was a big win.
There’s nothing like a resonant doublet for portable use because of the efficiency and lack of tuner needed (although my ATU was in my pack), and the Band Hopper III is a nicely designed antenna for field deployment. The biggest downfall of this particular antenna setup is the relatively large footprint that it requires. It would be great for a larger and/or more secluded park, but wasn’t ideal for a smaller park. In between when I started the activation and finished it, the number of people who arrived at the park increased significantly, and things were starting to get uncomfortably full there. I think next time I go out, I’m going to try at coil-loaded vertical. That should be even faster to set up and have a smaller footprint.
Also, I learned that CW is much like riding a bike: once you know it you never forget it fully. You might be rusty if you don’t use the skill for a long time but it never totally goes away. I’m sure I could standard copy POTA exchanges at 20 WPM with little difficulty, but I kept my keying speed at 13 WPM because my paddle keying was less than perfect. One gent slowed down his keying to match my sending speed, which was a FB move on his part, even though I was probably fine copying him at his original speed. I definitely need to do CW again the next time I activate a park, which hopefully will be very soon!