Ahern State Park POTA Activation K-2641

ahern state park

We were sitting on a small rock outcrop just above and to the left of this photo. You’d think we were along the ocean up in Downeast Maine! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Ahern State Park – Beauty Beyond the Beach

Yesterday my good buddy Jim Cluett, W1PID, and I decided to try to activate Ahern State Park along the eastern shore of Lake Winnisquam in central New Hampshire. I’d been there at least three other times, but it was a first for Jim even though this magical place is less than six miles from his house as the eagle flies.

The two previous days were blistering hot with temperatures above 90 F and a dewpoint kissing up against 70 F. That translates to sticky and steamy. Overnight a cool front was bulldozing in a lobe of cooler dry air so it was a perfect day to get out to do some outdoor radio.

ahern state park

This is the beach that draws people to Ahern State Park. It’s in a nice small sheltered cove. Jim and I set up on that rocky point just across the water in the photo. It was only a 100-yard walk from where we parked. Copyright 2018 State of NH

Ahern State Park is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets in central New Hampshire. You enter the park off a driveway that leads to the old state prison and reform school. Thousands of people, I’m sure, drive by and fail to see the old brown state park sign that’s about 200 feet off State Route 106.

As you make the turn into the park, you start to bump across a dusty well-worn gravel road that seems to lead to nowhere. For the most part, Ahern is a nothing park. It’s undeveloped in the sense that the only improvement is the gravel road. The reward for absorbing the pothole punishment is a sandy beach in a sheltered cove that soaks up the warm afternoon sun.

Once you exit your car in the turnaround circle at the beach, you’ll discover there are no picnic tables, no shelter, no nothing other than a dramatic view across, up and down Lake Winnisquam. This crystal-clear body of water is the third largest lake fully within the boundaries of the great state of New Hampshire. It boasts 7.2 square miles of surface area.

The Jaw-Dropping View at Ahern State Park

“Let’s go set up at that rocky point over there,” Jim suggested after gazing at the beach and the stunning view across the water. “There’s surely a trail leading to it.”

Jim loves the outdoors and I doubt I’ll ever get him hooked on Parks on the Air (POTA) activations. Just five days earlier we had activated Fay State Forest here in New Hampshire using my call sign. He just enjoys being outdoors and if he can collect a few Qs, or contacts, as we call them, it’s all the better.

I must say Jim makes a great teammate as his radio skills are far beyond mine. He’s been a radio operator for 50+ more years than me.  It was just six years ago I got serious about the hobby.

Within two minutes this is the view Jim and I saw after we walked from the beach to the rocky point. This is looking northwest right at my house just two miles diagonally across Lake Winnisquam. Ladd Mountain is that center bump across the lake. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Sure enough, there was a small trail just behind the beach. There were no signs telling you anything, you just had to be brave and believe.

As we walked up a slight grade next to a rotting pine tree, I could tell the view was going to be spectacular. I could see three miles down the lake and another three up the lake. Just across from us was the fabled Steele Hill and Ladd Mountain that’s not much more than a hill rising up behind my home.

ahern state park

Jim’s in the zone. He’s outdoors, he’s got a radio on and it’s spectacular weather. I’m looking northwest in this photo. The panoramic view from this rocky spot was one of the best views we’ve ever had on one of our outings. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

“Watch out for the dog doo,” Jim announced as I was soaking up the stunning view. The cool front had picked up speed and the wind was whipping up whitecaps on the lake. Some previous visitor must have had a large dog and it relieved itself right where we decided to set up. There was lots of doo to deal with.

“These two trees are just far enough apart that we can set up the 44-foot dipole,” Jim exclaimed. We used all my equipment including the dipole I modeled after one that Jim has. You can make one using thin 26-gauge twisted-pair wire. It connects to my Elecraft KX3 with a standard banana plug. The internal tuner in the KX3 has no trouble at all delivering a satisfactory SWR.

The flat dipole was about 40 feet above the water and the axis of the wire was roughly on a north-south line. This means the signal should radiate pretty well to the east and west.

ahern state park

This is the rocky point just north of the beach at Ahern State Park. It’s in the shade and bring a cushion if you intend to have a picnic lunch here. Without the cushion, you’ll have a sore derrière, for sure. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

40 Meters Was The Place to Be

As soon as we powered up the radio, I went to 20 meters. It was quiet and there was not much activity. I did hear one faint signal and Jim was able to copy Norm Jackson, K1NAJ, on a ground wave as he’s a fellow NH operator. My guess is Norm was probably just ten miles, or less, from us.

Jim was sitting on a rounded piece of the Meredith Porphyritic Granite in a trance looking out across the water. I could tell he was really enjoying this magical place so close to his home.

“Switch to 40 meters and see what’s happening,” Jim suggested. I often wonder if he’s not a soothsayer as that band had lots of strong signals.

Soon we started to make contacts, one of them a park-to-park contact with KD8DEU.

Here’s who we captured in my logbook:

CALL SIGN                 TIME                     FREQUENCY            SIGNAL REPORT

K1NAJ 1715 UTC 14.056 559
AB8EL 1724 UTC 7.059 559
KD8DEU 1730 UTC 7.036 559 (P2P)
VE3ZN 1735 UTC 7.036 559
WB3GCK 1744 UTC 7.029 449

Five Contacts Short – But Well Worth It

You need ten contacts within 24 hours on the same day to activate the park. We came up five short because the cranky sun is asleep. We’re at the bottom of solar activity in the eleven-year cycle and this can make low-powered outdoor radio quite a challenge.

ahern state park

The wind was really howling as Jim shot this photo. You can see it flipped up my log book cover onto the Elecraft KX3. My hair is quite unruly too. Believe me, you want to bring a cushion as the Meredith Porphyritic Granite pokes your bones! Copyright 2018 Jim Cluett

I had a great time but the wind made it hard for me to hear some of the stations. I’ve got some occupational hearing loss that I sometimes struggle with. That’s why it’s a great idea to have a teammate like Jim along who’s hearing is so much better than mine.

I guarantee you we’ll be back with cushions next time on a brilliant autumn day. I’m hoping to get the required ten contacts so we get credit as well as the wonderful POTA operators who try to contact us.

Fay State Forest NH – K-4900 POTA

fay state forest nh

Here I am on the loop trail at Fay State Forest in New Hampshire. I didn’t expect it to be as gorgeous as it was. I’ll be back for sure in the fall. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Fay State Forest – An Enchanted Tiny Woodland

Today I activated Fay State Forest in New Hampshire as part of the Parks on the Air (POTA) program. I did it with loads of help from my outdoor radio and CW mentor, Jim Cluett – W1PID.

Kay State Forest is a small 200-acre piece of pristine forest just west of both Route 3 and Lincoln, NH.  The southern boundary of the forest shares the Woodstock, NH  northern town line.

You can see Fay State Forest. Copyright 2018 OpenStreetMap.org

It’s an undeveloped piece of land with no roads or improvements on it whatsoever. We discovered a small gravel turnout on Route 3 just 100 feet north of the sign welcoming you into Woodstock.

fay state forest nh

Here’s Jim getting ready to wander up into Fay State Forest. We were lucky to find this turnout on the west side of Route 3 just north of the Woodstock town line. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Much to our surprise, there was a well-worn footpath leading you into the magic forestland. We were glad to not have to bushwack up into the trees to find a place to set up my Elecraft KX2 radio.

The Fay State Forest Loop Trail

Jim and I saw what appeared to be a loop trail and we made a left turn to proceed clockwise around the trail. The path was covered with a carpet of soft brown pine needles. It was like walking on a pillow.

Giant boulders plucked from the bedrock by the last period of Continental Glaciation were strewn about the forest. We even contemplated setting up on top of one that must have been 15 feet tall and 60, or more, feet in circumference.

fay state forest glacial boulder

This boulder may not look that big, but it was huge. Six people could easily sit on top and not be crowded. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

After walking just ten minutes we could tell we were on our way back to my truck so we decided to use a massive 200-foot-tall pine tree as our antenna support.

Jim used my water bottle and made a remarkable throw at least 50 feet up into the air snagging the perfect branch so we’d have a vertical antenna. He wanted me to make the throw at first to a higher branch, but I thought the challenge was too great.

This is just part of the giant pine tree! I cut off at least 12 feet at the bottom and the top of the tree must be 100 feet, or more, higher than the top of the photo. That yellow line is the halyard ready to pull up my 29-foot 26-gauge antenna wire. A 9:1 unun is attached to the bottom of the wire and a 25-foot coax cable stretches back to the radio. The top of the antenna was about 42 feet off the ground. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Little did I know he’d carry the day in more ways than just this throw.

Switch From Plan A to Plan B

Earlier in the day, I had posted on the POTA Scheduled Activations page that I’d be on the air by 1730 UTC, or 1:30 PM Eastern Time. Jim and I were set up and on the air seven minutes early.

While I had posted the frequencies I’d be on, 20, 30, and 40 meters, I didn’t post a specific frequency. That’s hard to do because you never know if that frequency is already in use when you power up your radio.

I called CQ POTA W3ATB W3ATB K4900 K several times hoping the skimmers would hear me and/or a POTA chaser operator. No one answered my call.

My signal was heard by two skimmers, but it wasn’t enough to alert POTA chaser operators who might answer my call all at the same time. When that happens, you get a mini pile-up. I was hoping for that to happen as we drove to the forest.

You can see my call sign and the 1730 UTC time stamp for today. The Reverse Beacon Network is an amazing tool that helps you see who’s hearing your signal and how strong it is.

After five minutes of growing frustration, Jim said, “Spin the dial and go find someone and make a QSO.”

Thank the Contesters!

We were fortunate that we did this activation on a weekend. Long ago Jim taught me that low-powered outdoor radio is very likely the toughest thing to do.

The conditions can be challenging, the antenna might be marginal, and you’re lucky to be transmitting at, or above, 5 watts. If you don’t know much about amateur radio, that’s the amount of power you use to illuminate an incandescent night light.

It didn’t take long for us to find activity. Fortunately, there were quite a few signals on 20 meters. The Kansas QSO party was in full swing and my log book started to fill up with contacts. We needed ten to activate this rare POTA entity. I was the first person in the USA to attempt an activation here, so I wanted to get the required ten contacts.

My fourth contact was a DX one, OZ2TF, in Denmark. I was quite happy to see my signal was bouncing well off the waters of the Atlantic Ocean! Jim and I are lucky to live in New Hampshire and we regularly log European stations because the nearby ocean helps reflect our weak signals eastward.

We milked 20 meters for all we could and switched to 40 meters. The Ohio QSO party stations were booming into us and in short order, we hit the required ten contacts. I was elated and Jim was happy to help log contacts.

I’m pretty happy about my log book filling up with contacts. Victory! First to activate Fay State Forest K-4900. Copyright 2018 Jim Cluett

Here’s my log:

Call Sign                  Time                        Frequency             Signal Report

W0K 1738 UTC 14.044 599
N0C 1745 UTC 14.049 599
NS8G 1750 UTC 14.045 599
OZ2TF 1755 UTC 14.050 599
K0N 1759 UTC 14.031 599
W0S 1800 UTC 14.030 599
K8AJS 1808 UTC 7.045 599
N8BJG 1810 UTC 7.047 599
KE8G 1811 UTC 7.041 599
KI8R 1813 UTC 7.046 599
W8ERD 1824 UTC 14.046 599

A Learning Experience at Fay State Forest K-4900 POTA

I have to admit the day turned out far different than what I envisioned. While driving to Kay State Forest I said to Jim, “Today you’re going to see what a well-oiled machine can do during a POTA activation.” Jim wisely didn’t respond. He’s more an actions-speak-louder-than-words type of guy.

Here are my main takeaways from today’s adventure at Fay State Forest:

  • If operating QRP, low power, then, by all means, favor contesting days
  • Don’t underestimate your ability to sling a water bottle 60 feet into the air
  • Respect solar minimums
  • Always invite a seasoned outdoor operator on a POTA activation

I’m very satisfied with the results of this activation, but as I drove back down I-93 I thought about how much I still have to learn. Just a few weeks ago I pronounced to Jim during the QRP Bumblebee contest I was a flippin’ operator. After today I wonder if I shouldn’t dial that assessment back a notch or two.

2018 NJ Skeeter Hunt

nj skeeter hunt

That’s me in the green t-shirt. N1LT, Dick Christopher, is in the plaid shirt and W1PID, Jim Cluett, is in the blue polo shirt. Dick forced me to upgrade to General six years ago and Jim has been patiently teaching me outdoor radio and CW. What a thrill to be out with both of these QRP radio giants. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

The 2018 NJQRP Skeeter Hunt radio contest was a huge success here in central New Hampshire. It was one of the best times I’ve had outdoors in a few years because I was able to operate with the two men, Dick Christopher and Jim Cluett, who have offered me the most amateur radio guidance in the past seven years.

Dick Christopher, N1LT. He was the founder of the Central New Hampshire Amateur Radio Club. He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse to upgrade to my General privileges. I only had a little less than three weeks to prepare. Copyright 2018 Jim Cluett

In a meager attempt to pay them back for all they’ve given me, I decided they could sit on the picnic table bench while I set up all the equipment. They howled with laughter when the first under-handed throw of my water bottle soared so high I was unable to grab the end of the halyard cord. It literally slipped through my fingers only to dangle 15 feet up in the air out of my reach.

I had to climb down over the river bank to retrieve my water bottle and pull the halyard cord through the tree to start over.

I tied the end of the cord to a special clip on my backpack and threw again. The second throw was perfect as the water bottle came straight down through the branches just ten feet from the edge of the picnic table.

In all the confusion I slipped the BNC cable onto my Elecaft KX3, but failed to twist it to lock the cable onto the female connector. Even still we worked contacts like I used to make cheese coneys at Skyline Chili all those years ago.

What was the Weather Like for the NJ Skeeter Hunt?

The weather was perfect. The temperature was probably 76 F, it was brilliant sunshine and the all-important dew point was about 57 F. The bonus was there were no bugs bothering us until the last ten minutes. That’s when a swarm of biting flies discovered my legs!

Where Did You Operate?

The three of us were just 50 feet from the edge of the Pemigewasset River in Bristol, NH. We were in the US Corps of Engineers flood control area behind the Franklin Falls Dam. There’s a group of three picnic tables under a majestic pine tree that offered up her branches to support my 29-foot wire antenna that had a 9:1 unun at the bottom.

nj skeeter hunt

This is my wire antenna and halyard holding it up. The top of the antenna was 39 feet up in the tree.  The halyard line continues up another 20 feet before it starts to come down. The wire did not touch any branches or pine needles. That’s super important! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Did you Operate as a Team or as Individuals?

We decided that we’d operate as individuals but use the same radio, antenna and iambic micro Pico paddles. We each had our own log books and used my Elecraft KX3, my 4.5 Ah BioennoPower LiFePh battery, and my 9:1 unun attached to 25-feet of coax cable.

nj skeeter hunt

Jim and Dick look like they’re attending class taking notes. As you might suspect, they’re busy copying CW being sent by another Skeeter! I sat at Jim’s left when I wasn’t taking photos or looking at horses. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

How Many Contacts Did You Get in the 2018 NJ Skeeter Hunt?

We had a grand total of only fourteen contacts, but it was far more than I ever thought we’d get. Propagation has been horrible this summer. I would have been thrilled with three contacts today.

Here’s our log:

19 Aug-18    1722  14.060    NK9G   CW 559 559 WI 6
19 Aug-18    1726  14.062    NN9K   CW 599 599 IL 64
19 Aug-18    1730  14.060    K4BAI  CW 559 559 GA 163
19 Aug-18    1736  14.059    WO9B   CW 559 559 WI 24
19 Aug-18    1740  7041      N3AQC  CW 559 559 PA 77
19 Aug-18    1752  14.064    AB9CA  CW 559 559 IN 22
19 Aug-18    1800  14.063    KE8EAS CW 599 599 OH 57
19 Aug-18    1805  14.059    N5GW   CW 449 559 MS 5W
19 Aug-18    1811  7031      WF4I   CW 559 559 NC 70
19 Aug-18    1818  7042      NK9G   CW 559 559 WI 6
19 Aug-18    1823  7038      N9MM   CW 559 559 POTA
19 Aug-18    1825  7033      K2BR   CW 559 599 NJ lighthouse Bob
19 Aug-18    1844  7042      K3RLL  CW 579 579 PA 15
19 Aug-18    1849  7038      N8GU   CW 559 579 MI lighthouse B

Because we each worked the same contacts, we were slower at capturing other contacts had we been able to hunt and pounce by ourselves. Jim would work a contact first, I’d follow and then hand the paddles to Dick.

It was a great way to operate. Had we set up individually, our signals would be crashing into one another and it would have been a frustrating ball of mayhem. Trust me, I’ve been in this situation before with Jim and another friend K1SWL. It’s no fun to be trying to work others when a nearby signal walks over a QSO.

Who Else Was With You Next to the River?

Why I’m glad you asked! Women and horses joined us. Lots of both.

It turns out there’s a cool group of NH women who ride together and they come to this amazing flood control area to exercise their steeds along the banks of the Pemigewasset River.

There were at least ten horses. They were pretty frisky and loving the fresh grass near the picnic tables. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Several were amazed we were doing Morse code. But all were flabbergasted about how I was able to get my halyard up 65 feet into the tree with just my arm.

My answer always when asked this question is, “Oh, it’s just one of my skills and magic.”

Why Was the 2018 NJ Skeeter Hunt So Much Fun?

I had a blast because I was with two of the hams that have played such an important part of my journey in this hobby. The weather was a bonus as were the horses!

KX2 Case

kx2 case

This is my KX2 case. It’s a Pelican 1200 case in vibrant orange so you can’t miss it out in the woods, unless it’s autumn in New England! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

KX2 Case – For Durability Use a Pelican 1200 Case

My Elecraft KX2 is protected from damage because it fits snugly and securely inside a Pelican 1200 case. I don’t want my radio damaged if I slip and fall on a muddy or icy trail out in the wilderness.

kx2 case

This is an Elecraft KX2 inside a Pelican 1200 case. Just about everything you need to get on the air is in the case. Some of the gear I normally put in the case before I close it I left out for this photo. It would block what’s down in the foam cutouts. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

What Fits in the KX2 Case?

I’m able to get the following into my Pelican 1200 Case:

Yes, all this fits in the case plus the radio! You just have to use the space wisely. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

What Do the Cutouts Look Like?

kx2 case

The foam moves around when everything is out, but it goes back to the correct position when your stow the gear. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

Will a KX3 Fit in a Pelican 1200 Case?

Yes, you can make an Elecraft KX3 fit into a Pelican 1200 case. It needs to be rotated 90 degrees so the long side of the radio is parallel with the case hinges.

You won’t be able to get into the case all the other goodies I’m able to stash with my KX2.

kx3 case

Here’s my KX3 sitting on top of the foam and other gear. You can’t see it from this angle, but there’s enough room on the sides for one row of the foam cubes. You might be able to stow the battery, unun, coax and power jumper cables, but that’s about it. Copyright 2018 Tim Carter

kx3 case

Jerry, W4DSD, contacted me about my KX2 in a case because he’s trying to get his KX3 to work in the same Pelican 1200 case. You can see there won’t be much room left for other stuff. Copyright 2018 Jerry W4DSD

pelican 1200 case

I wanted the bright orange so that no one steps on the case when I’m outdoors. If it had come with a flashing LED light, I would have bought that too! Copyright 2018 Tim Carter