2020-08-26 Today was a significant day in my 60 year ham radio life. After months of being a POTA hunter, logging 260 QSOs with stations operating from 37 different parks, and "dreaming" about being an activator myself, today I did it! I packed up my xiegu G90, QRPGuys EFHW antenna, 6Ah LIFEPO4 battery, carbon fiber collapsible fishing pole and dri\ove 4-1/2 miles to Wisconsin's Richard Bong State Recreation Area. I've been there many times over the years to hike, camp and fly RC planes. But never to operate HF radio!
All my gear except the 20 foot carbon fiber collapsible fishing pole were packed in a hard sided case from a local thrift store. The site was an open picnic area shaded by large oak trees. It was relatively cool at 10:00am when I arrived but swarming with mosquitoes. Thankfully, after a few minutes the OFF kicked in and they quit bothering me. If one purpose of POTA is to show the public what ham radio is I didn't do well. the only visitor, other than mosquitoes and a few birds flying around, was some strange bug that landed on my case! He wasn't impressed and didn't stay long.
I chose my QRPGuys EFHW antenna and set it up as an inverted vee using the carbon fiber pole to support the center. I secured the pole to the ground with half of a fiberglass snow marker. The pole was tied to the snow marker with three turns of 1/8th inch bungee cord secured with a cord lock. I find that bungee cord and cord locks, indispensable for setting up antennas. I also used a piece of bungee cord about 8 feet long to tie the far end of the antenna wire to a tent stake in the ground and another shorter piece to tie the transformer to the picnic table. It provides more than adequate strength to hold the antenna taught but is very easy to work with and provides the antenna flexibility. Great stuff I discovered in my hiking/camping hobby.
The picnic table served well as my operating bench! Here are some observations from the experience.
- Being a POTA Activator is not nearly as "threatening" as I imagined. I chose CW as my mode and people worked well with my funbling and stumbling! Even the couple small pileups weren't too bad. It helped that I had been a hunter for so long and pretty much knew what to expect.
- Being out in a park is much quieter than being at home! There was very little noise on 40, 30 or 20, the three bands I checked out. Forty meters seemed the most alive so I settled on it.
- The G90 set at 20 watts worked well for me. I love the G90, using it a lot at home and that love continues after today. The antenna was resonant with as close to a 1:1 SWR as one can imagine so I didn't use the internal tuner.
- The QRPGuys End Fed half Wave antenna using SOTABEAMS light antenna wire, about 26 gauge, performed very well. The contacts ranged from 250 to 850 miles, all but one to the south or east. No trouble hearing or being heard. And it is light as a feather, about five ounces. The SOTABEAMS wire is perfect, strong, flixible, tangle free and very light weight. The 20 foot fishing pole hardly bent at all. I used an identical antenna system at home for over a year as my primary antenna, only changing so I could run more than 20 watts. Oh, and it is inexpensive!
- Logging is interesting! I had made up some log sheets which I used but quickly realized was a mess! The column widths field order simply didn't work well! But they served. I had another note pad to do my doodling on so I could keep the log sheet somewhat legible. I've already designed a new one! I decided not to mess with the logging program on my phone, though I use it for casual portable operating. The chance of making an error with no trail for recovery is too great. With a notepad and paper log I was able to deal with the fast QSOs and scratchy writing. Nearly every entry had some "backup" on the scratchpad. Obviously I have a lot to learn from future activation's.
- Finally, preparing the log to submit was a very time consuming and confusing process. I use Ham Radio Deluxe for all my logging so I entered these QSOs into that. That part went well. But I simply could not find a simple way to export "just what is needed" to send to POTA. Finally, I stumbled onto ADIF Master which allows editing of the ADIF file exported from HRD. But it took me all afternoon and I haven't heard back whether it is acceptable or not. There has be, needs to be, a simpler way!
Conclusion? A lot of fun. I'll be back again, I'm sure.